- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

WOODSTOCK, Ill. (AP) - An unusual finding at the bottom of a drawer at the McHenry County Division of Transportation led to the discovery of more than 300 old documents that laid the foundation for much of the county road system we know today.

The “Harmony linen,” as employees have come to call it, is a document typed and drawn on a 28-by-19-inch wax-preserved Irish linen that settled a land dispute filed by a property owner along Harmony Road, which stretches from Huntley west to the Boone County line. But to Project Design Engineer Ernest Varga, who stumbled across it, the linen represented a mystery to be solved. No one had seen anything like it before - it was dated 1939, and referenced state road laws dating back to 1847, or just 11 years after the county’s founding.

“This had to have been done for a reason. This was not done on a lark,” Varga said.

A penciled-in note referenced another “road paper” supposedly held at the County Clerk’s office, Assistant County Engineer Jeff Young said. While the linen stumped county clerk’s office employees, longtime clerk Kathie Schultz recognized the clerk’s signature and the seal authenticating the document. She provided an important clue about where related documents would be. The county clerk’s office at the time also oversaw the recording of documents until voters in 1964 approved separating what are now the recorder’s and circuit clerk’s offices.

Direction from Circuit Clerk Katherine Keefe and Recorder Phyllis Walters led to the county archive building, where Records Manager Bill Draths found the box of road papers from more than 1,800 stored at the facility. The 303 documents, handwritten with quill and ink, detail how roads in the county got their start, including parts of major thoroughfares such as Routes 31, 47, 14 and 23, Varga said.

Landowners back then, mainly farmers wanting ways to get their goods to market, had to petition what was then the Board of County Commissioners to have a road built. The process at the time not only included collecting signatures but also posting a bond to prove the request was serious. If the board agreed more study was needed, after a hearing in which supporters and opponents could weigh in, the board would send “viewers,” a predecessor to today’s surveyors, to walk the proposed route.

Young said the discovered documents included original petitions, hearing notices and the original layouts that the viewers proposed, plus plans for roads that were ultimately rejected. The documents regarding Harmony Road were referenced in the 1939 “Harmony linen” to settle the dispute.

“It’s fascinating because now we’re actually seeing the original documents before there were roads anywhere, and why they needed them,” Young said.

Varga said the discovery of the box of “road papers,” which he is still in the process of going through, ends a three-year quest that began with the Harmony linen. He and others took to the project in their spare time when they were not working on official county business.

The discovery is not the first interesting county historical find in recent years. The county’s original book of minutes, which covered 1837 to 1848 and laid down many or its original laws, was found in 2009 in the collection of a downstate antique store.

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Source: The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald, https://bit.ly/1HimXnI

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Information from: The Northwest Herald, https://www.nwherald.com


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