Fertile land attracts
early settlers to the region
(Published July 21, 1995, in the Fox Lake Press,
by Ruth Sutton, Reporter
French first to see Fox Lake
French explorers in the early 1600s were the first white men to visit the
Fox Lake area, but Indians long preceded them, according to the official
history of Fox Lake produced for the village's golden anniversary in 1957.
[RS Note: More recent research has been unable to find any record of French explorers coming through the Chain of Lakes.
Ron Nagel, history buff and former Fox Lake police chief, studied 20 volumes of original hand-written records by Jesuit Priests from that era. He learned that they had been warned by the Indians not to try to portage this area because the waters were too shallow.
The closest to the Chain that they reported was the Waukegan area. Ron Nagel believes the first white men to visit the Fox Lake area were either white trapper itinerants or someone out of Ft. Dearborn, which was located at Chicago.]
In 1836 this part of the American frontier was opened to white settlers
by federal government treaty with the Indians. The rich and fertile
land teemed with wild rice, game and fish. Adventurous pioneers already
had staked out homesteads on land they liked, usually with water frontage.
There is no record of any serious violence having befallen any of these
families, though the Indians already had firearms. Only their little
boys were still using bows and
The first post office in the area was established in 1838 at Fort Hill,
now Fairfield Rd. near Rte. 120. In 1849, it was moved to Big Hollow
(then called Goodale's Corners, later named Dighton and, finally, Grant).
The earliest recorded town meeting and election took place there in 1850.>
A post office called "Fox Lake" was established in 1859 at Monaville (by
Fairfield Rd.), a busy farm town in Civil War
days. Mail came by stage coach from Little Fort (Waukegan) three
times a week and was distributed by buggy, horseback and boat.
What became the Village of Fox Lake was then known as Nippersink Point.
All roads ended at Oak St. until a bridge was
built during World War I, using wood because of a metal shortage.
The railroad reached Ingleside in 1899, called "Fox Lake" station, and
was finished in 1900 to "Nippersink
Point." Later the stations were renamed Ingleside
and Fox Lake [as they remain today].
Fox Lake was granted its village charter on April 13, 1907. In May
they elected John Brown, a storekeeper
and original postmaster, as the first village
The Fox Lake Volunteer Fire Dept. also was founded [at a meeting in
December] 1907 [and chartered by the state in
1908]. The department had a horse-drawn
pumper and a hose-reel on wheels that could be hitched up to horses or
pulled by hand. Outbreak of a fire was heralded by ringing a bell atop
the village hall [after that was built].
The village well and water system was set up during the 1920s, financed
by water assessments on all property
owners, though lines were only extended to streets with buildings. Conversion
to residential from resort began during the 1930s' depression, as unemployed
workers moved to their cottages when unable to continue paying rent in
The village also benefited from government projects by the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps
[WPA and CCC]. They helped build
new roads, bridges and seawalls, fill in sloughs and level hills.
The Fox Lake Public Library opened in 1939 as WPA Project 80032
with a grant of 1,200 volumes. It was
initiated by the Fox Lake Women's Club, who agreed to serve as the local
sponsor without pay.
The first school was built in 1941 at Fort Hill. Three years later
came the Gavin, Big Hollow and Fox Lake schools,
and the former 'brick' school (near Nippersink
and Wilson Rds.)
St. Bede's Catholic Church dates back to the first settlers. The Ingleside
Methodist Church began meeting in homes around
1897 [as Ingleside Community Church].
Fox Lake Community Church [also] started as a non-denominational
congregation in 1926, Trinity Lutheran at Long
Lake in 1940 and the Fox Lake Baptist
Church in 1955.
When Fox Lake was first incorporated, population estimates ranged
from 200 to 400. A booklet advertised
34 hotels and resorts, five taverns, four boat
lines, two boat builders, two livery stables, two clubs and 16 other businesses.
The village population count totals 7,500 as of the 1990 census.
The Fox Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry
lists 168 member businesses.
Formerly blocked on the north by Nippersink Lake, Fox Lake [Village] now stretches northward past Rte. 173, westward
into McHenry County and southward to
Both housing and business developments are booming as the village nears its 90th anniversary in 1997.
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The Fox Lake Story:
Early inns furnished shelter for man and
beast in country of the lakes
by Ray Walsh
Published January 3, 1957, in the
Fox Lake Press, Lakeland Publishers.
(In early 1957 -- Fox Lake's golden anniversary year -- reminiscences
about the early days of the Fox Lake area were being written by Ray Walsh
for the Fox Lake Press. This recounts some of his thoughts about a family
that came to the Pistakee Lakes area, then moved west because the area
was becoming "too crowded" more than a century ago.)
A tavern, in the early days of the Fox Lake area, was a place where the
traveler could find food and lodging for himself and his horse. It
was the center of the settler's meager social life.
In preparing this story of the first taverns and inns and the first families,
Walsh said he found it difficult to determine the proper sequence.
There was no one left here who was then alive. So he talked with
people whose ancestors lived here--those few he could find--and checked
the few early and often inadequate records.
Reports from these sources did not always agree, but from them all he had
gathered what he thought is a fairly authentic
The hardy people who came into the country of the Pistakee Lakes in those
early days came to trap fur, fish and hunt, and later became guides and
boatmen. They were rough, strong people, who knew how to subsist
in the wilderness and deal with the Indians.
In about 1880 Deveraux Goodale established a tavern at Big Hollow, as it
is now known. The settlement was called Deighten. This was
the first public house in the area which provided shelter for the traveler
and his horse. The story of Big Hollow and its part in the history
of this area will be told later.
In those early days, the code of the frontier, before the inns were established,
assured hospitality for travelers at every settler's cabin. No questions
were asked. The traveler brought news of the outside world and was
In 1833 Robert Stanley left New England with his wife and son to make a
new home in the west. He had heard of the forests, the lakes, and
the rivers in this new land. The east no longer had a place for the
woodsman, and he decided to move on.
The Stanleys traveled by horse and wagon on the long trail west. They stopped
for a time at Oneida, N.Y., where a son, Robert E., Jr., was born.
They reached Chicago in 1835. Robert, Sr., worked as a carpenter
there before he decided to make his home in the virgin forests around the
He built a log cabin near Big Hollow, trapped, and farmed in a small way.
In 1850 the new township of Goodale was formed, and Robert Stanley
was elected a road commissioner at the first
township election in April.
Some years earlier he built a log lodge on the shore of Nippersink Lake,
to accommodate hunters and travelers who came that way. He and his
sons trapped fur. A muskrat pelt was worth seven cents. Robert received
$80 for his work.
Robert, Jr., had grown to become a carpenter and boat builder. The
design and construction of his boats won favorable mention in a national
sportsmen's magazine at a later date.
In 1857, young Robert built a house of milled lumber for John Sayles on
the site where the family of John's wife, Betsy, had lived in a log cabin
for many years. Robert received $80 for his work.
The house stood on a hill near the site of the (old) Fox Lake Village Hall.
This house was rebuilt shortly before Mrs. Hattie Schmidt lived there (in
By this time the Stanleys were building and selling hunting and fishing
boats. They were serving as guides, and hunting, fishing and trapping
and were becoming very well established.
Robert Stanley, Sr., had six sons. Monroe was a blacksmith who established
himself east of Squaw Creek in a trap building and fur business.
Rosmond (Marsha's note: Aralzeman?) raised horses. Robert Jr. was
the carpenter and boat builder. Owen built a home on Point Comfort
and in later days ran the post office in his home. (The names of
the two youngest sons Walsh did not learn.)
Young Robert served in the Union army during the Civil War. After
the war he married and took over the resort business.
His parents and the two youngest boys took off for Nebraska, where they
had other relatives and where there was more
elbow room. The region about the Pistakee Lakes was getting too crowded
In the Pistakee Lakes area, young Robert attracted many sportsmen to his
resort. Guiding sportsmen and building boats was a paying business.
Like other resort owners, he cut ice on the lakes in winter and stored
it in large sheds under protective layers of swamp hay which kept the ice
through the summer. Large quantities of fish and game were hung in
the ice houses for guests and friends to take home at the end of their
Robert Jr. had three sons and a daughter, all skilled in the life of hunter
and trapper, and in the art of guiding sportsmen through the still wild
country. Game abounded. The waters were full of fish, and in
autumn flocks of ducks and geese darkened the skies.
The Stanley resort burned to the ground in 1885. Robert and his sons
built a small frame hotel with a pavilion where dances were held.
About 1895 this place was sold to Otto Muehrke and (the Stanleys) moved
to a house on Point Comfort.
Otto Muehrke built a large addition to the small hotel, which soon became
known as the Muehrke Illinois Hotel, a place famous for years. It
stood until the 1930s, when the hotel was torn down, and the land was turned
into a resort park by a Mr. Lowing.
Robert Stanley's son Bert had married and lived near the Elgin Waltonian
Club on the shore of Fox Lake. About 1900 he built a home at the
top of the hill on Forest Ave., he continued to build boats, and
kept rooms for his friends who came to hunt and fish.
He established his parents in a house nearby, which in 1916 became the
home of Clarence and Addie Ostrander. Bert Stanley shot ducks for
the market. He packed them in barrels and shipped them to the big
Bert's sister, Minnie, married Hank Jackson of Grass Lake, and their son
Henry lived (1957) in McHenry. Bert's children were Edythe Bridges
and George Stanley, who lived at nearby Brandenburg Lake, and Robert, who
lived in Chicago.
This story of the Stanleys is offered here because their history represents
best, perhaps, the life of the early pioneers, and because it portrays
so clearly the changes through which the country of the Pistakee Lakes
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The Fox Lake Story:
Record of Sayles Family Throws Light On
100 Years of Fox Lake's History -- Fox Lake History Linked with Sayles
By Ray Walsh
Published in the Fox Lake Press January
(In 1957 -- Fox Lake's golden anniversary year -- reminiscences about the
early days of the Fox Lake area were being written by Ray Walsh for the
Fox Lake Press. This recounts some of his research about the Sayles family
and the origin of the village center.)
The downtown business
section of the village of Fox Lake stands almost entirely on land that
belonged 100 years ago to John Sayles.
Through the kindness of his granddaughter, Jane Homan, and her mother,
I have learned John Sayles' story. They let me look through old deeds,
contracts, and other papers, and they told me what they knew of stories
handed down through the family, from generation to generation.
In one deed dated Oct. 23, 1848, and signed by David Smith of Addison County,
Vermont, conveyed 80 acres to John Sayles of Waukesha, Wis. The land
was described at the SE 1/4 of the NE 1/2 and the NE 1/4 of the SE 1/4
of Section 9, Township 45 North, Range 9, west of the 2nd principal
This would be the land now bounded on the north by the alley behind Klaus's
store on Grand Ave., on the east by Forest Ave., on the west by Rte. 12,
and extending one-half mile.
John Sayles also purchased 40 acres directly south of tract, extending
to the north line of Kings Island. On these 120 acres are all the
business buildings on Grand Ave. between Rte. 12 and Forest, and everything
on the east side of 12 from Grand to the Milwaukee Road spur track.
South of this track, it includes every business house of both sides of
On Jan. 7, 1850, John Sayles purchased for $25 a small tract lying north
of the original piece. This would be everything west of the Fox Lake
Grade School and south of the village hall, running west to Rte. 12.
His wife Betsy's people had squatted on this hill near the present village
hall many years before, but had not been able to buy it because it still
belonged legally to the Indians.
The names of Betsy Sayles' parents do not appear in any of the deeds.
A great-granddaughter of John and Betsy, Ada Anderson, told me that Betsy
had been born there and had watched the Indians move out after the Black
Hawk War. Ada got the story from her grandmother, Cynthia.
It is evident that John Sayles married Betsy soon after he came to this
area in 1848. Their first child was a boy, Frank. A daughter,
Cynthia, was born in 1850, and another son, Ed O. Sayles, was born in 1852.
On Aug. 22, 1865, John Sayles bought the west fractional half of the SE
1/4 of Section 9, containing 49 acres, from John and Mary Horan, who had
obtained it from William Wisner. This deed was witnessed by Stephen
Marvin and his wife, Tryphena. The amount paid was $250.
This land lies south of the Lagoon Marina and is now largely occupied by
Pistakee Portals and Eagle Point Heights. It includes all the Pistakee
shoreline there except Eagle Point.
On Dec. 31, 1868, John and Betsy Sayles gave $350 and 134 acres of land
to their son, Frank, on the stipulation that Frank was to feed, clothe,
furnish medinicos [sic], house and otherwise maintain his parents.
When the younger brother, Ed (then 16), reached 21, Frank was to deed half
of the land to him.
This contract, however, was never fulfilled. Frank took off with
a man named Dowell for the California gold fields. Dowell, it is
said, came back alone and rich. Frank never returned.
John Sayles died in 1879. In 1883 his widow, Betsy, issued a quitclaim
for all the land to her son, Ed. I asked how Cynthia had not been
mentioned in these transactions, and was told that old John had not favored
her marriage at the age of 15 to Harry Dunnell. Her brother, Ed,
however, felt that she had been unfairly treated and bought land for her.
Part of that land was on Forest Ave. south of Cathryn. She later
willed it to her daughter, Mabel.
Ed is said to have helped her buy the site of the old Dunnell House in
April 1877. There Cynthia and Harry Dunnell started a resort business
in a part log, part frame building. This piece of land was previously
owned by J.L. Tweed, Robert Stanley and William Wisner.
Ed O. Sayles married Betsy Jane, whose last name is not definitely known,
and had three children. A daughter Etta married John Dalziel.
A second daughter Grace now lives in Florida. Their son Ernest married
Marion Cornus of Hebron, Ill., in 1910, and they had six children.
Ed O. and Betsey Sayles and daughter Grace
Marian told me that Ernest took off for Oklahoma and never came back.
She lives now with her son on S. Rte. 12. Her daughter Jane and husband
Elmer Homan operate a sportsmen's supply store on S. Rte. 12.
Ed O. Sayles, they say, was sometimes too openhanded for his own good.
At times his wife Betsy Jane became so provoked [she would walk in the
woods] behind the present  location of the Fox Lake Funeral Home
on South Rte. 12.
At one time the Sayles family had four houses. One was on a side
hill where the Pilgrim Shop now stands, and one, built by Robert Stanley
in 1857, stood on the site of the first Betsy Sayles parents' log cabin,
near today's village hall. The oldest Sayles house is on S. Rte.
12, where Marian Sayles lives  with her son.
Ed Sayles laid out a small subdivision in 1900 at Grand Ave. and Nippersink
Blvd. The original plat was notarized by Alex Tweed.
The openhanded Ed charged $10 a year for a 90-year lease on each lot, but
his wife Betsy Jane called this deal off and sold the lots outright.
Ed explained that he just wanted to get the new town started and wasn't
trying to make money. The railroad, however, it is said, paid him
for the land it used.
When the railroad came, Ed went into the bus and hauling business.
His and Franklin Marvin's livery barns were on the hill near the site of
the new fire station.
It is said that Ed did well in this business. He always wanted to
do good, and sometimes stood on the street giving money to those who needed
it. As Marian told me, his wife Betsy Jane did not think much of
this idea and would take off for her house on the hill whenever she got
Ed had a large part in helping the new town get started. He donated
land for streets and roads, and entered into many phases of the village's
Ed O. Sayles was a public-spirited citizen who put the welfare of his community
above personal gain.
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The Fox Lake Story:
Dunnell House Marked a Chapter in Early History
of Lakes Area
By Ray Walsh
Published in the Fox Lake Press January
(In 1957, Fox Lake's golden anniversary year, reminiscences about the early
days of the Fox Lake area were being reported by Ray Walsh for the Press.
This is the story of the Dunnell family.)
The first Dunnells came into the country of the Pistakee Lakes and to the
Nippersink Point settlement at a date hard to determine, but probably more
than 100 years ago. (i.e., before 1857)
There were the first Harry, his wife, and son, Harry Jr. They were
squatters in a log cabin on the side of the hill about where the Roy Klaus
store stands today. This land then belonged to John Sayles.
Old Harry was by all accounts quite a woodsman, hunter and fisherman.
Young Harry, having been well taught by his father, soon became his equal,
and as the lakes in those days were full of fish and the country abounded
in game, they soon entered into the guiding of the hunters and fishermen
who were then beginning to come to this country of lakes.
Harry Jr. in 1865 married Cynthia Sayles. Cynthia was born in 1850
in a log cabin on the hill near the present fire station. She was
the daughter of John and Betsy Sayles. It was said that John did
not approve of Cynthia marrying Harry at the age of 15, and so did not
provide for her at that time, but the young people were not to be stopped.
They walked down to Volo and were married there by Squire Rogers.
However, Cynthia's brother, Ed, did not think she had been treated fairly,
and later helped her buy the land where she and her husband established
the Dunnell House Resort. This would be today on the hill west of Route
12, south of west Oak Street.
This site was purchased from J. L. Tweed in 1877. It is evident that
before 1849, William Wisner was the first owner of all this land along
the Pistakee shore, having taken it up from the government.
Cynthia was also deeded other land by her brother, Ed, including a tract
adjoining North Forest Avenue.
Harry and Cynthia were the parents of a daughter, Mabel, and three sons,
Harry, Bert, and Will.
They had started their resort in a large log cabin and soon built a large
frame building adjoining this cabin; this was the first Dunnell House Resort.
The Dunnells had soon established a good resort business. They trapped,
hunted and fished, and kept their ice house filled with fish and game,
ready for the use of their guests and friends.
Old Harry, I have been told, did quite a bit of clamming. Fresh water
clams were found in beds, in take shallow water along the shores of the
river banks and islands. They were brought up with a large rake,
examined for pearls, and the shells sold to the button factories.
At one time there was no channel between the Nippersink and Pistakee lakes,
where the first bridge is now located. The only channel then was the river
to the west. In order that they might bring their boats in close
to the hotel, the Dunnell boys with Connie Marble dug a ditch by hand between the two lakes.
Connie Marble had a place to the north of the Dunnells, close to where
this channel was dug.
Later, it was said, Otto Muercke of the Illinois Hotel, aided in the widening
of this first channel, providing room for larger boats. This also
caused a strong current and fresher water along the east shore of Nippersink
Lake. This today is a wide, deep channel, heavily traveled by power
The Dunnell boys, as were all of the early lake and river men of this lake
country, were expert shots. They, especially Bert, with the Graham
brothers of Long Lake, took part in many trap shooting meets. They
won many trophies and at one time held the championship of the world for
a five man team.
It is a matter of record that here in Grant Township there were at one
time more expert trapshooters than at any other place in the world.
This I will write of later.
Nearly all of those old expert trapshooters and hunters have left this
earth. They would probably not care for the hunting here today.
It was safe to hunt with those men; they were experts in handling guns,
they shot to kill game, and seldom missed, and were careful of their fellow
men. This is not always true of the hunters today.
The old Dunnell house was destroyed by fire about 1896. It was rebuilt
a few feet to the south, and again operated as a resort for many years.
Old Harry died in 1899 and his widow, Cynthia, lived with her sons at the
resort until her death.
In 1939 the property was sold to Albert Hoffmeyer, and he and his father,
John, now operate an auto supply house there.(in the 1950s)
Mabel Dunnell had married Charles Tilden in 1890. Charles was the
son of Horace and Winnie Tilden, who ran the old Lakeside Hotel at that
Mabel and Charles had a daughter, Florence, and twin sons, Horace and Forrest,
who were better known as Pete and Dutch. They were taught to jig
when quite young by Frank Gerretsen, and entertained the patrons of the
Dunnell house. They also, of course, were experts at hunting and
fishing. Forrest died a few years ago and Horace now lives with his nephew,
George, of Kings Island.
Florence was married to Pete Gendrich. Pete was a strong man and
wrestled in carnivals and circuses. His wife, Florence, also was
a performer in an act using a version of an electric chair. They
had two sons, Charles and George. They were taught to wrestle in
the carnivals when small boys.
Florence was burned to death in a fire caused by an explosion of their
gasoline stove in their trailer at Pontiac, Ill. in 1923. They were
then traveling with the Ringling Bros. Circus. Charles now lives
in Chicago, and George Gendrich lives at Kings Island.
Pete, the father, was said to be quite a man. He was known to pull
automobiles around with his teeth, and was also the first Fox Lake police
officer to ride a motorcycle, and served under Frank Gerretsen, who was
the town marshal in 1919-1920 under Mayor William Nagle.
Mabel separated from Charles Tilden about 1895. Charles went to northern
Wisconsin, and Mabel married Frank Gerretsen. They had two daughters:
Iva, who died in 1956, and Ada, who lives in Fox Lake with her husband,
John Anderson. Frank and Mabel have both passed away.
There are today none of the Dunnells living except Ada and Horace, the
children of Mabel, and her grandsons, Charles and George Gendrich.
The old Dunnell house was quite a place in its day. The old hunters
and trapshooters with their stories and experience, both famous and infamous.
The barrels of ducks and fish being shipped to the Chicago hotels.
The mail and supplies coming in on the old steamboats.
Old Captain Hill on the Mary Griswold coming up from McHenry blowing from
the landings: three blasts on the whistle for one horse-drawn bus
to take off his passengers, or four blasts if more than one bus was needed.
Those colorful times of plenty are today but history.
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