1818: Illinois admitted to the Union as the 21st state. At this time only the lower 2/3 of Illinois was populated by settlers, the northern part being inhabited primarily by Amerindian tribes. The northeast corner of the new state was home to bands of Winnebago and Potawatomi Indians, driven west and south by conflicts with the French and with other native groups.
1819: An expedition underway this year, passing through northern Illinois, described the area as “almost entirely destitute of inhabitants. Many parts of the country must remain uninhabited for many years to come, on account of the scarcity of timber, and other deficiencies, such as the want of mill-seats, springs of water, &c. There are however, numerous and extensive tracts within this region, possessed of a rich soil, and in other respects well adapted for settlements.”
1820s: Chicago was only a village at this point, a few dozen homes clustered around Fort Dearborn.
1823: Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains was published in two volumes. In this book the word Wahconda first appears, understood by the expeditioners as the Omaha Indian word for God. In fact, it seems to be an equivalent of Algonquin gitchi-manitou, ‘great spirit’, the creative life force that connects and inhabits all things. It appears to humans in various, usually animal, forms; must sometimes be placated; and is called on personally by individual Omaha for aid or to stand witness to something said or done. Edwin James, who compiled the Account, reports a conversation he had with an Omaha chief: “Big Elk remarked, that . . . his life was at the disposal of the great Wah-conda only, and he could not die before his time. . . .” Other Siouan languages have similar words: Wahcondah (Oto), Wokkon-doh (Konza), wacatunca (Sioux proper).
1827: Publication of James Fenimore Cooper’s popular novel, The Prairie. Cooper, who wanted to accurately portray a part of the country not previously introduced to a general readership but whose own knowledge of the west was minimal, “obviously used the Account of an Expedition as a handbook during the whole period of composition”, and he borrowed from it both names and vocabulary. In draft manu- scripts he named the Indian god Manitou, but “[a]t some stage of revision Cooper remembered that ‘Manitou’ was an eastern term . . . and that the Account had information on vocabularies of western tribes.” As a result, the name was changed to Wahcondah.
1831–2: “During the years 1831 and 1832 the beginnings of settlement were made in northern and eastern Illinois.” These first white settlers in the north of Illinois were hunters or traders coming in mainly from southern states; most of them fled to more established settlements at “the first alarm of the Black Hawk War” (1832) and did not return.
1833–4: 1. Potawatomi Indians agreed to leave their land in northeast Illinois within three years in exchange for acreage west of the Mississippi. Many of them began to move west immediately, and by the time the first permanent settlers arrived from the east, most of the Indians had left the area. (There were, however, still a handful of Winnebago in the Lake County area during the early years of Wauconda’s exist-ence.)
2. The federal government encouraged people to migrate west by offering lands newly acquired from the Indians to settlers at low prices. “Pamphlets advertising Illinois lands flooded the states from Ohio to the sea-board.” In 1833, this poem appeared in a Boston news- paper:
Come leave the fields of childhood, worn out by long employ,
And travel west and settle in the state of Illinois.
By 1834 settlers from the east began to move in. Unlike earlier settlers in the area, these new arrivals were farmers who came west intending to stay. “[T]hey had large families, . . . and it was difficult farming and to make a living [out east]. They came for the land.” As word of the land in Illinois and its resources got back to family and friends in New England and New York, others began to follow the new Illinoisans to the north of the state. Some travelled by water, through the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes. Others came west in covered wagons. “The pioneers made their way out into the wilderness from Chicago or Little Fort (Waukegan) in wagons and ox carts and had a lifestyle similar to that described in [Laura Ingalls] Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie.” They staked their claims on the good farmland, built log cabins to live in, and waited for the government to finish its survey of the land. Although settlers in the far north- east of the state probably had little to fear from prairie fires, health problems such as ‘the ague’ (i.e., malaria) and ‘milk fever’ (which killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother in Indiana) were common everywhere, especially in marshier areas. The wildlife also presented challen- ges. Gershom Flagg in 1817 wrote to his brother in Vermont: “Sheep will do very well here if they can be kept from the Wolves, but this cannot well be done in the newsettled parts the wolves are so very numerous.” Two years later Ferdinand Ernst, the promoter of a German settlement scheme further south, reported that “In this prairie I found many rattlesnakes; but all small, of gray color, and of one species.” He added however, that “[d]uring my entire journey I have heard of no fatality produced by their bite.” These dangers continued throughout the frontier period.
1835: 1. First white settler on Diamond Lake
2. Indian title to the soil was extinguished in this year.
1836: 1. Justus Bangs (1806–1895) set out from Vermont with his neighbor (possibly his relative) Elihu Hubbard to see if land in Michigan was as good as they’d heard. Not being impressed with Michigan, the men continued to the homestead of Justus’s older brother David, who had settled at Meacham’s Grove, near Bloomington, Illinois. Travelling up the Fox River and following Indian trails, they ended up at Diamond Lake, where they camped the first night with some Indians living there. The following day they came across what is now Bangs Lake. Bangs declared that he had found his home. With the help of his friends, he put up a log cabin in two days..
2. The three men built another log cabin, for Elihu, north of the lake. They then set about planting their first crop and spent, in Bangs’s remembrance, an idyllic summer in their new home. At this time there were a few other settlements scattered about the area, mostly west of the Des Plaines River.
3. Autumn Justus Bangs injured his side and could not work for a while. He returned to Vermont, but sent his parents and two of his sisters (Lydia and Anna) to Illinois to hold his claim. (Because the Indian land had not yet been surveyed, land claims were vulnerable to new arrivals.)
4. Also this year, Hugh Davlin and his wife Rose arrived with their children in the future Cuba Township. The Davlins were Irish but had lived for a time in Troy, NY. The family probably travelled by boat through the Erie Canal and across the Great Lakes, then out from Chicago with oxen and carts. They claimed 80 acres of government land and built a log cabin. This Lake County pioneer family helped to build not only Cuba Township but also the town of Wauconda. They were the area’s first known Catholics.
1837: 1. Thomas F. Slocum (1812–1875) constructed a log cabin on the north bank of what is now Slocum Lake; his daughter Ellen (1837–1873) was the first white child to be born in what became Wauconda Township. The Slocums were related to Elihu Hubbard (who may have been related to the Bangs family). Other early settlers were Mark Bangs, Peter Mills, A. J. Seeber, D. H. Sherman [D.H. Martin?], John C. Wooster, Daniel Martin, W. H. Hawkins, and Stephen Rice. Most of these men were farmers.
2. Townships began to be formulated. Usually a township encompassed six square miles, but Ela, Wauconda and Antioch townships are 6 x 4. (When Wauconda high school was formed, the township took two additional miles from McHenry township.) “The lands [that became Wauconda Township] were originally mostly woodlands and oak openings. It has, however, a small prairie . . . containing an area of about 600 acres.” Other than a military trail passing through the southern end of what is now Cuba Township, and many Indian trails, there were no roads in the area. “The Potawatomi occasionally returned for short visits and were generally friendly.”
3. Not long after settlers began to arrive, there was a travelling minister who made the rounds of the various communities.
1838: Sarah Slocum, wife of Jeremy (the brother of Thomas) died in this year. She is the first person we know of to be buried in the Slocum Family Cemetery (SW of Rt. 176 and Darrell Rd). This cemetery is now heavily vandalized.
1839: 1. 1 March Lake County separated from McHenry County (of which it was originally part) by an act of the Illinois legislature.
2. Justus Bangs returned to Illinois with his wife, Louisa (–1851) and their sons, Andrew (1830–92) and Ambrose (1831–1920). Like other early settlers, Bangs bought a large tract of land, planning to sell bits of it off to relatives and friends whom he encouraged to follow. Bangs’s land included all of what is now Wauconda; his farm stretched from the lake past today’s Liberty Shopping Center.
3. Andrew C. Cook (1801–1884), of Stamford, Vermont, purchased 380 acres in Wauconda at $1.25 per acre, and established a farm. His wife, Mary Oaks (1807–1901) of Athol, Massachusetts, was the sister of Louisa Bangs. Their first home was a log cabin. Just south of the farm buildings stood a small grove of hickory and oak trees; the trunk of one oak had been bent almost to a right angle when the tree was a sapling so that the Indians could use it as a trail marker. The Cook children, who often played in the grove, called it ‘the Bent Tree’.
4. Area Baptists met for the first time under the leadership of Elder Joel Wheeler of McHenry. The church first met in the homes of Mark Bangs and Zebina Ford, and they continued to meet in private homes until the schoolhouse was built, after which they met there.
5. Area’s first school was built for community children. It was called the ‘Little Red School’ and was constructed on land donated by Justus Bangs. It was a log cabin, 20 feet long, heated by a fireplace at one end. The books used were Cobb’s Speller, the Bible, Second & Third Readers, and an arithmetic. The school year started in September and ended in May, though some of the older boys didn’t start until November, after the crops were harvested.
1840s – early 1850s: Wauconda’s peak growth years (at least until the suburbs overtook it in the late 20th c). The first main street ran along the banks of the lake; the streets leading onto it were lanes. There were no bridges, so people who wanted to enter or leave the town had to ford the inlet or the outlet to the lake. “To obtain the cash to improve his land, [Justus] Bangs contracted to carry mail between Chicago and Janesville.” Because the road was too difficult to travel by coach, this mail route was done on horseback. In these years, Pioneers “had to be thrifty and imaginative. They braided corn husks for foot or door mats. Their only lights were candles, which they made. . . . They churned their own butter, spun the wool and flax into thread and wove it into cloth, made their own clothes. . . .” Quilting bees and barn raisings were common, the latter often followed by a ‘barn dance’. Farmers in the area raised grain and many also raised livestock of various kinds. “When it was time to take the crops and stock to market, farmers gathered together and went as a group to Chicago, the nearest market. Wives would gather at one of two homes while several men would remain behind to guard them from possible dangers.” As elsewhere in the state, most farmers supplemented their livelihood by hunting. Aside from hunting and farming, the early population was engaged in mining limestone near what is now Volo, which led to the establishment of several brickyards. In the winter, local men would cut blocks of ice from the lake; these ice blocks would be stored in Grantham’s Ice House on the shore and sold throughout the year for use in refrigeration. Another local industry was the making of butter; at one time there were three creameries in the area.
1840: 1. Population of Lake County in this year: 2,634
2. About this time a remnant of the Winnebago Indian tribe returned to Wauconda to trade. They were living on the banks of the Fox River and seem to have camped near Slocum Lake. The Cooks became friendly with them, and they often visited the Cook family.
3. Also in this year, the first immigrants from Ireland arrived in the village. Like the Davlins of Cuba Township, they were Catholics.
4. Methodist country circuit riders from Wheeling began visiting the township on occasional Sundays.
1841: 1. Transfiguration Parish, the oldest in the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, was established this year, preceding the establishment of the Chicago Archdiocese itself by three years. Hugh Davlin and eight of his Irish fellow settlers, including brothers John and Michael Murray (originally of Wexford, Ireland), organized the first Catholic church. Like other religious groups, they met in homes initially. A visiting priest from a nearby settlement came through every four weeks, led the Mass, and performed marriages and baptisms.
2. By this year, two Methodist congregations had been established, one in Half Day and one in Fairfield. The Fairfield congregation included families from Wauconda, who later organized a Wauconda congregation.
1842: The Slocum Lake community, known as Cornelia, by this year had enough residents to justify opening the area’s first post office. Thomas and Mary Slocum were the postmasters. However, the Slocums were less outgoing and aggressive than Justus Bangs in Wauconda, and they did less to promote their settlement. As a result, the Bangs Lake settlement grew while Cornelia did not.
1844: 1. John Murray donated land two miles east of Wauconda (where the Transfiguration cemetery is now located) for the building of the area’s first Catholic church. It was constructed of logs. The church was called St. John’s Mission, and services were held once a month. This was the first church building to be built in the Wauconda area.
2. In this year “the dead of the village and of those living near were being buried on what at the present time is known as the Academy lot, being at the time the property of Mr. Justus Bangs, Esq.”
3. Marietta born to Thomas and Mary Slocum
4. At this time a man could be hired to shuck corn for 10¢ an hour.
2. Justus Bangs built the first store in the Wauconda area. Another early business was established by Luther Kimball (1823–1874). It later burned down and was replaced by a store owned first by Robert Harrison, then by the Golding Brothers, Albert Peck, and James Carr. Most early businesses were housed in buildings of wood-frame construction. They were connected by wooden sidewalks. General stores had been established where farmers traded produce for merchandise.
3. By now there were more people in Wauconda than in Cornelia
4. Lewis H. Todd, originally of Connecticut, moved out from Chicago to settle in Ela
Mid-40s: The Bangs Lake settlement was in the mid-forties known only as “Township 44, Range 9, in the county of Lake”. Justus Bangs and Andrew Cook called it Bangs Lake; it had previously been known as Rice’s Prairie. But others had begun to call the village Wauconda. Local legend holds that this was the name of a young Indian chief, whose name meant ‘Spirit Waters’ and who is buried somewhere along the banks of Bangs Lake, but this is highly unlikely: Wauconda is one form of the name of an Indian deity, and A. Berger, writing to a local paper in the late 20th century, points out that “As far as we know, Indians in this area did not . . . name themselves ‘God’.” He adds that “common sense refutes the notion that they buried their dead on lake shores. A grave dug on a lake would soon fill with water, and a corpse planted there would soon pop up as it decayed.”  In fact the name seems to have been suggested by Lafayette Mills, teacher at the Little Red School, who had encountered it in a book—probably James Fenimore Cooper’s The Prairie (see 1827). Most likely, as Berger observes, “The link between ‘Wauconda’ the Indian deity and the name of the village involved no Indians.”
1846: Elijah Haines platted the town of Hainesville. It was a planned community from the start, and in a few years it became the first incorporated village in Lake County. Located about halfway between McHenry and Little Fort, it soon became a way station for those making the full-day’s journey between the two, and a place to stop for those travelling at night, which took longer. About this time also, settlement began at the Fork, where the roads to Chicago, McHenry, and Little Fort (Waukegan) met. This area was initially called Forksville; its modern name is Volo.
1847: 1. 23 March Hugh Davlin of Cuba Township died. Justus Bangs served as executor of Davlin’s will.
2. Lewis Todd was hired by Justus Bangs to build a hotel in Wauconda; he settled permanently in the town.
1848: Justus Bangs left his original farmhouse to his son Andrew and built a new house at Bangs and Main.
1849: 1. 27 June The post office established at the Cornelia settlement near Slocum Lake was relocated to Wauconda proper. The first postmaster in the Bangs Lake settlement was Hazard Green.
2. November A countywide vote led to the county being divided into ‘towns’ (i.e., townships); at this point Wauconda was formally organized.
3. At this time, most of the roads leading into and through the town were “blazed through prairies, streams, and woods. Some roads were covered with planks to make traveling easier, especially for stagecoach passengers.” One of the plank-covered roads was McHenry Rd., which led to Janesville and was later known as the Old Plank Road.
4. The stagecoach route from Chicago to Janesville, Wisconsin, went through Wauconda. One round trip took a week to make. Ambrose B. Bangs, the son of Justus Bangs, drove the stage from Chicago to Janesville for eight years. “He says that he suffered a good many hardships, but he . . . had no trouble with the Indians. . . . [I]n those days Wauconda received mail once a week only. Not many letters were sent because the postage was twenty-five cents for each letter, and none of the letters were enclosed in envelopes.”
5. John Lewis Brooks (originally of Boston) helped “more fully organize” the Baptist congregation in Wauconda, which at this time had 11 members. Rev. Brooks “was to continue as the dominant figure in the Baptist movement in the area for the next 40 years, serving as preacher . . . for a total of 27 years.”
Edwin James, comp., Account of an expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains performed in the years 1819 and ’20 by order of The Hon. J. C. Calhoun, Sec’y of War: under the command of Major Stephen H. Long, 2 vols.(Philadelphia: H. C. Carey and I. Lea, Chestnut Street, 1823); vol. II, pp. 335–6.
Ibid., vol. I, p. 194;vol. II, p. 370. The Oto word also means ‘thunder’. Unlike the Judaeo-Christian God, this spirit could be maleficent. In his travels with Lewis in 1804, William Clark came across a creek called by the OmahaWau can di Peeche, which he translates as “Great Spirit is bad” (www.nps.gov/archive/jeff/LewisClark2/ TheJourney/NativeAmericans/Omaha.htm); James translates the very similar wah-con-dah-pish-co-na (Oto) and wok-kon-doh-pe-she (Konza) to mean ‘devil’.
Orm Överland, The Making and Meaning of an American Classic: James Fenimore Cooper’s The Prairie (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1973; published in North America by Humanities Press); pp. 67, 80-1.
Robert P. Sutton, ed., The PrairieState: Colonial Years to 1860, part I of A Documentary History of Illinois (Grand Rapids, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), p. 242.
William Vipond Pooley, “The Yankees Arrive”, p. 242, in Sutton.
Quoted by David Parro in “The Pioneer Families of Tower Lakes”, Village of Tower Lakes web site (www.villageof towerlakes.com), under ‘history’.
Lake County (Ill.) Genealogical Society publication, Lake County, Illinois, 1861 Landowners Map & Index Libertyville, Illinois, 1997), p. 1
Mary Lueder interview in “Memories 2004″, publication of the Wauconda Township Historical Society (also see Sutton, p. 243).
Parro, “Pioneer Families”
Sutton, p. 143
Sutton, p. 211; travelling in 1855, Scotsman William Ferguson reported that the snakes “sometimes bite the cattle, when whisky and tobacco is applied, and this allays the inflammation. It is affirmed, there is no authenticated instance of any one in Illinois having ever died from the bite of these prairie rattlesnakes” (ibid., p. 352).
LCIGS, 1861 Landowners Map, p. 1
One source says Hubbard was Bangs’s nephew, though some sources say that Hubbard and Bangs travelled with Bangs’s nephew. Another source claims that Hubbard’s wife was Bangs’s niece. Yet another simply calls him a neighbour. Whatever the case may be, most of Wauconda’s early settlers were related in one way or another.
“Wauconda began with the house of Justus Bangs in 1836 on the shore of the lake that now bears his name” (Federal Writers Project, Illinois: A Descriptive and Historical Guide [Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1939], p.503).
Rice settled on a prairie just south of Forksville, and his property gave to Wauconda its first, unofficial name: Rice’s Prairie.
Elijah M. Haines, Historical and Statistical Sketches, of LakeCounty, State of Illinois, in two parts. The first consisting of General Observations; The second gives a minute Review of each Township, in its order (Waukegan, Ill.: E. G. Howe, 1852), p. 97.
Parro, “The Pioneer Families of Tower Lakes”; he may mean the Winnebago, some of whom do seem to have visited the area in the early years of settlement.
LCIGS, 1861 Landowners’ Map, p.1
At least two of the Oaks brothers, Andrew and Daniel, also settled in WaucondaTownship. Bethiah, the wife of a third brother, Luke, is buried here, although he is not; she was a cousin (or sister) of Justus Bangs. In fact, most of the new arrivals to Wauconda were related to the Bangses or the Slocums—or both—by either marriage or birth. They were primarily Protestants of English descent.
Wauconda Township Historical Society, “Cook House Dates to 1850s” Historical Notes column, Wauconda Leader, 31 January 1980.
Jane E. Petzold, “Justus Bangs, Prince of Pioneers”, Lake County Market-Journal, 31 March 1982; Tony Wishik, “1877 Election Favors Village”, The Herald, 17 August 1977, and “Sun Rises on Village’s Second Century”, The Wauconda Herald, 17 August 1977; Wishik says the Baptists started meeting in 1838.
Federal Writers Project, Illinois, p. 503; Chicago Historical Society, Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005, article on ‘Wauconda’ (http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1327.html)
Tony Wishik, “Life and Doings of Justus Bangs: The ‘Grand Old Man’ of 1891 Recalls”, The Herald, 17 August 1977.
Richard Warfield, “The History of Lake County’s Schools”, speech given to the Wauconda Township Historical Society, 6 November 2006. Warfield explains that most one-room schools faced either east or west, with a window in the north so that the light would come in over students’ left shoulders.
Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago.
Wauconda Township Historical Society, “Early Pioneers Fought to Live”, Historical Notes column, Wauconda Leader, 1979.
Ruthhart, ed., “Farmers Helped Build Wauconda”, Wauconda Leader, 4 August 1977.
LCIGS, 1861 Landowners’ Map, p. 1
WTHS, “Cook House Dates to 1850s”; Petzold claims that relations with the Indians were so cooperative that sometimes the Indians helped out on pioneers’ farms (“Justus Bangs, Prince of Pioneers”).
Wishik, “Sun Rises . . .”
Wishik, “Sun Rises . . .”
“Wauconda Township Cemetery Inscriptions, Lake County, Ill.”, booklet compiled by the Lake County Genealogical Society Cemetery Committee, p. 14.
Wauconda Township Historical Society, “Husking Bees Were Fun Times”, Historical Notes column, Wauconda Leader, 1979.
In “Justus Bangs, Prince of Pioneers”, Petzold says that Bangs’s horseback mail service began in 1845 and ended in 1853. However, by 1849, stagecoach was regularly making this trip, and in 1852, Elijah Haines described the road to Janesville as a ‘stage road’. It seems likely therefore that 1845 was the terminating date for this run rather than the year it was started—though Wishik also says it started in 1845.
Mary Lueder, the great-granddaughter of Justus Bangs, remembers her grandmother [Fannie Bangs Pratt]’s heels clicking on these wooden walks (Lueder interview, “Memories 2004”, compiled by the Wauconda Township Historical Society).
Robert Stephenson of the Smithsonian Institute, the Curator of Anthropology at the Chicago Natural History Museum, and Jim Hamilton, a member of the Omaha tribe, all gave this explanation for the word in letters to local resident Katherine Scott in 1964. According to Oregon Geographic Names, “Wakonda is used by tribes of the Siouan family to mean something consecrated and, as a verb, it means to worship” (Oregon Historical Society Press. There are numerous editions; which this comes from is not noted). Scott’s letters are in the possession of the Wauconda Area Public Library.
A. Berger, “Origin of ‘Wauconda’ ” Daily Herald, 29 April 1999, Section 1, p. 15.
Jerry Smith, of Boom Towns & Relic Hunters [email@example.com], whom I contacted about the history of Wauconda, Washington, tells me that the town in Washington State was named by the Hedges brothers, natives of Wauconda, Ill., who went west during the gold rush. They said the word meant ‘upper valley’, which has no relation whatsoever to any of the explanations given for our town’s name—or to local geography. Whether there was a reason for this beyond their own imaginations is unknown.
Biographical sketch of Elijah Haines from Portrait and Biographical Album of Lake County, Illinois(Chicago: LakeCity Publishing Co., 1891); quoted as a preface to the reissue of Haines’s Historical and Statistical Sketches.
Ruthhart, ed., “Haines’ Hainesville started it all”, Lakeland Publications, 1976.
Probably the Pratt House, which stood about where the current village hall and parking lot are. It served as the site of civil functions (such as elections), and was one of the town’s numerous hotels during its resort years.
Village of Wauconda web site.
Ruthhart, “Federated Church”, 1977
Wishik, “Sun Rises . . .”