Resource head

Harvard History Book 1975

History of 
Harvard, Illinois 

From Settlement to The Civil War

From the organization of the county until the adoption of the township system in 1850, the duties of the Board of Supervisors were discharged by three commissioners who fixed the rates of taxation, granted mercantile, tavern and ferry licenses, established rates of toll and prices for en­tertainment, ordered roads, formed election precincts, appointed county and municipal officers and exercised general supervision over all county matters. After the counties were formed, precincts were used for voting districts only.

In March of 1838 the court ordered that the following descriptions of property be taxable at 1/2 percent on the dollar on slaves and indentured or registered negro or mulatto servants, on pleasure carriages, on distilleries, on stock and trade, on all horses, mares, mules, asses, and meat cattle above 3 years of age, on wine, on lumber, on one-horse wagons, on clocks, on watches, on sheep and all ferries. The commissioner's court also ordered that the several landlords of McHenry County shall receive the following fees and compensations for the years of 1837 and 1838:


McHenry County Fees & Compensations
1837 and 1838

Brandy -  Gin - Rum per 1/2 pint
12½ cents
  per pint
25 cents
Wine per 1/2 pint
18¾ cents
  per pint
37½ cents
Whiskey per 1/2 pint
6¼ cents
  per pint
12½ cents
Cider or Beer per 1/2 pint
6¼ cents
  per pint
12½ cents
Breakfast - Dinner - Supper per meal
37½ cents
Lodging per night
12½ cents
Horses per night, per span
25 cents


The following ferry rates for the county were fixed by the commissioners in March, 1839:

McHenry County Ferry Rates - March 1839

For each wagon and span of horses, or yoke of oxen
37½ cents
For each one-horse wagon and horse
37½ cents
For each horse and rider
25 cents
For each extra or lead horse, or ox
6¼ cents
For each foot passenger
12½ cents
Meat cattle, per head
6¼ cents
For each hog, sheep, goat or calf
4 cents
For horse and sulky, or horse and gig
37½ cents
for oxen and cart, or horse and cart
37½ cents


In 1839, Lake County was separated from McHenry County , thus forming McHenry County as it is today. The population of McHenry County in 1840 was 2,578 people. At that time the county assessor was paid $2.00 per day and the county commissioners $2.50. The commissioners fixed the rates of compensation for jurors both grand and petit at 75 cents per day. The work of assessing the county for 1842 cost $102.00. In 1843, the county revenue amounted to $793.14.  The population of Chemung Township at this time was 928 people. Township officers chosen at the first election held April 2, 1850 were as follows:

Chemung Township Officers - April 2, 1850

J.C. Thompson
Edwin Hurlburt
Lawrence Bigsby
William J. Billings
A. Sutherland
Justice of the Peace
Asa Pease
Justice of the Peace
Burrows Wilkinson
Commissioner of Highways
Orrin Burr
Commissioner of Highways
William Neuman
Commissioner of Highways
Seth Johnson
Overseer of the Poor


Quoting from the history of McHenry County, 1885: "Harvard is considered one of the most healthful places in the northwest. The ground on which it is located is high and gently rolling, thus furnishing most desirable building spots and a pleasant place of residence. This land was originally purchased from the government by Abraham Carmack and Jacob A. Davis, who sold it in 1845 to Gilbert Brainard. After the death of Mr. Brainard, the estate was sold to a company of railroad men consisting of Page, Eastman and Ayer, who laid out the town in April of 1856. The place was named by Mr. E. G. Ayer for Harvard, Massachusetts. Blackman's Addition is located on a portion of the farm owned by Wesley Diggins who sold out to Blackman in 1859 and moved to California where he died. Hart's Addition is a part of William Hart's farm. Soon after laying out the town, Page and Eastman sold out to Ayer and left for new fields while Ayer remained to see the growth and development of a handsome and enterprising village. 1856 staged the earliest existence of Harvard.

Civil War to 1900

Two years after the end of the Civil War, an act to incorporate the Town of Harvard was approved by the State of Illinois. On February 28, 1867, the foresighted men responsible for writing this act included laws that were not only pertinent to the year of 1867, but for many years to come. A few of interest are the following:

1. The officers shall have the power to cause all the streets, alleys and public roads within the limits of said town to be kept in good repair. And to this end may require every able bodied male resident of said town over the age of 21 and under the age of 60 years, to labor on the same, not exceeding three days on each and every year. If such labor be insufficient for such purpose, to appropriate so much of the general funds of the corporation as they shall deem necessary therefore.

2. The treasurer shall have the power to levy and collect taxes upon all property, both real and personal, within the limits of said corporation, not exceeding 1/2 percent per an­num upon the assessed valuation thereof.

3. They will restrain, regulate or prohibit the running at large of cattle, horses, sheep, swine, goats and other animals and to authorize the detaining, impounding and sale of the same, and to prevent any indecent exhibition of horses or other animals.

4. They will prevent horse racing or any immoderate riding or driving within the limits of said town of horses or other animals, prohibit the abuse of animals, and tell persons to fasten  their horses or other animals attached to vehicles or other things while standing or remaining in any street, alley or public road in said town; to establish and maintain a public pound, a poundmaster and prescribe his duties.

5. To suppress and prohibit disorderly houses and houses of ill fame.

6. To make regulations to prevent the introduction of contagious diseases into the town, and execute the same for any distance not exceeding two miles from the limits thereof.

7. To regulate the storage of gun powder and other combustible materials, provide for the prevention and extinguishment of fires, and to organize and establish fire companies; that the town will furnish water for the extinguishment of fires and the convenience of the inhabitants.

8. To license, regulate, suppress and prohibit the selling, bartering, exchanging and traffic of any wine, rum, gin, brandy, whiskey, ale or strong beer or other intoxicating liquor within the limits of said town; and to prevent giving away the same by any dealer, shop, or tavern keeper to be used as a beverage.

These laws were a part of the act to incorporate the Town of Harvard. An election was held in April, 1868, and the of­ficers elected were as follows: President, E, G. Ayer; Trustees, J. C. Crumb, F. Kaub, Owen McGee, B. F. Groesbeck; Clerk and Attorney, William Marshall. The first ordinance passed at their first meeting, "Be it ordered that the President and Trustees of this corporation shall receive no compensation for their services as such officers of this board."

In 1869, there were 217 men who voted in that election. Robert Gardner was elected President, and he was reelected again in 1870 and '71. It is interesting to note, in 1869, the appropriation of $60.00 was made to purchase uniforms for the firemen, and $25 to pay the brass hand for their services.

In 1870 the first board sidewalks were authorized. They were ten feet wide on Ayer Streetand four feet wide on all other streets.

In 1872, N.E. Blake was elected President and he was reelected in 1873.

In 1874, Henry Baker was elected President and he was reelected in 1875 and 1876. The total number of votes cast in the election of April, 1876 was 275.

In 1877, J. C. Crumb was elected President.

In 1878, A. E. Axtell was elected President and reelected in 1879. During these years, the public school of Harvard was closed on account of prevalence of a contagious disease in this district.

In 1880, Harvard was the largest town in the County of McHenry with a population of 1607. In that year Ed E. Ayer was elected President of Harvard, with a total vote cast of 299. In the same month Mr. Ayer was elected President he resigned, and Mr. B. A. Wade was appointed to take his place. In the meeting of May 17, 1880, a resolution was adopted to impose a poll tax in the Town of Harvard of $1.00 for each male adult.

The year of 1881, Lot P. Smith was elected President of the Board with 301 votes cast. In this year there were eight licenses issued to sell intoxicating liquors within the Town of Harvard, said license costing $150.00 per year. In August of 1881, Lot P. Smith resigned as President and Mr. B. A. Wade was appointed to finish the year.

In 1882, Owen McGeen was elected President of the Board, with 153 votes being cast in the election. In this year the liquor license fee was raised to $175.00 and ten licenses were issued. This year the Board appropriated a sum, not ex­ceeding $400.00, for the purpose of purchasing two acres of land to be donated to parties who may build a pickle factory within or adjoining the corporate limits: the said parties to give bonds with good security for double the amount to carry out said factory for ten years in consideration for said donations. The town purchased hook and ladder apparatus for the fire department's use.

In the year 1883, C. D. McPherson was elected President of the Board of Trustees with 326 votes cast. During his term, an ordinance was adopted regulating the construction of buildings within the town of Harvard. In June of that year, an ordinance was adopted granting the Chicago Telephone Company the right to erect and maintain telephone poles and wires through, in and upon the streets and alleys of the town of Harvard. An ordinance was passed ordering the con­struction of the sidewalks in Hart's, Ayer's and Blackman's addition. Said sidewalks were to be constructed of pine lumber, one inch thick and six inches wide. The cost of the sidewalks was to be paid for by a special tax levied upon the owners of the lot along which such sidewalk shall run. In October of this year, it was voted that four cisterns be built for fire purposes; one near the Episcopal Church to contain 400 gallons; one at the Methodist Church to contain 300 gallons; and one at the corner of Church and Jefferson Streets to contain 300 gallons. At the same time a horse power fire engine was purchased from the Remington Agricultural Company for $1,000.00.

The year of 1884, N. E. Blake was elected President and also reelected in 1M. It seems this board had the same problem that every board had since the beginning of the Town of Harvard. It was to try to get the people to keep their animals in enclosures, to remove the manure from the premises, not to leave it on their lots and in front of their homes and streets, and also to cease slaughtering animals within the town limits. It was in the election of 1884 that P. E. Sounders was elected clerk. He held this position until his death in 1913, In September of '84, the board met at the request of the school director of Harvard School District to act and concert, to take proper means to preserve order on school grounds, to prevent school being disturbed by disorderly persons not attending school. It was moved and carried that the President appoint a suitable man to act as special police from half past 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 pm in the