Civil War-era tax ledger shows Lake County history within the numbers
A tax ledger donated last week to the Fremont Township assessor's office offers a unique snapshot of a long-gone era in Lake County.
Remarkably well-preserved, the slim bound book contains listings for taxes paid by every township property owner in 1864. Many of the listed names are familiar to this day -- some through the streets named after them in various communities.
Taken as a whole, the meticulously handwritten pages of names and numbers provide a sense of the area's rural roots. By comparing the listings with old maps available on the Lake County website, one can see where the rich and locally famous owned property.
Aside from its potential for genealogical research, the book isn't necessarily a historical treasure. But it is an interesting document to be savored by those who value the past and are fascinated with how the suburban landscape has evolved.
"I'm intrigued by stuff like this," said Fremont Township Assessor Joe Herchenbach. "I'm an appraiser nerd."
A few fun facts quickly emerge from the roughly 50 pages of data contained in the ledger, which measures about 10 by 16 inches.
For example, property typically was valued at $3 to $4 per acre, compared with today's starting assessment price of $60,000 to $75,000 for the first acre in a parcel of raw land, Herchenbach said.
The number of taxpayers and the amounts paid are hard to comprehend.
"It looks like there were about 500 taxpayers (in 1864). Now we have over 12,000," Herchenbach said.
The total of the taxes collected in 1864 was $5,043.06, including $2.23 paid by I.J. Hoyt, the town collector. That total is much less than many individual property owners' tax bills today in the 36-square-mile township.
The breakdown of the taxes paid in Fremont Township in 1864 includes $379.31 in a handwritten category identified only as "war," a nod to aid provided to those who served. State records show 1,890 men from Lake County fought in the Civil War.
The war tax in 1864 raised funds for bounties paid to men who enlisted, according to Diana Dretske, curator and historian for the Dunn Museum operated by the Lake County Forest Preserve District.
In 1862, for example, the bounty was $25. Most men gave the money to their families to help support them, Dretske said.
The volume also contains an alphabetical list of the value of personal property, though it provides no further details.
"Here's one (listing) for $1,200. That seems to be the biggie," Herchenbach noted.
It's not hard to imagine Hoyt or someone else making the entries by candlelight with an ink well handy to dip their quill pen.
Where did the ledger come from and how did Herchenbach get it?
"Since I'm the history guy in our family, I ended up with it and basically sat on it," says Vern Paddock, a McHenry resident whose family has deep history in Lake County.
The ledger previously belonged to Paddock's mother, who was 101 when she died in 2017. Her maiden name was Tekampe, a name woven into township government and agriculture since brothers John and William Tekampe arrived in 1855. William was Paddock's mother's grandfather.
"How she ended up with (the ledger), I don't know," said Paddock, who's retired from the McHenry County clerk's office. "I basically had it sitting on a shelf down in the basement with some other things."
Paddock said he didn't know what to do with the ledger until it came to mind last week out of the blue and he brought it to the Fremont Township assessor's office.
"We don't have any of those books and I've never seen one," said Fremont Township Clerk Christina McCann.
"It was fun to see the family names that are still around," said township Supervisor Diana O'Kelly. "It's just fun history."
McCann has been using a scanner to digitize township records and make them available under the history section on the township website. They include 111 years of handwritten records of town meetings, beginning with the first in 1850.
"My guess is they were stored in a private home based on who was serving at the time," McCann said.
Such records should have gone to the county, but often individual tax assessors and others such as school directors would keep them in their homes, Dretske added.
For whatever reason the ledger was saved, the intent is to share.
"I hope to reproduce the document and post it on our website for public viewing," McCann said.