1840 Wonder Lake Home
The 1840 Tryon House, with its picturesque Italianate architecture, is one of the oldest and grandest homes in McHenry County. Learn about its historical significance and the next chapter of its story.
The Tryon Grove Farm of Wonder Lake has weathered 175 years and is still going strong – stronger than ever, really. Anything with that much history is going to have some stories to tell. The Tryon story begins with a sentiment shared among many Americans in the 1830s: The desire to go west.
By 1830, America boasted a population of approximately 13 million people in 25 states. Andrew Jackson, the “Great Commoner,” was president. It was a land filled with unbridled pride and confidence for a brighter future. The revolution that created the country had ended only 47 years before. America had emerged victorious from the War of 1812 – the country’s “Second War of Independence” – only 15 years earlier. The Erie Canal – the pathway that would open up the West – had been completed five years earlier. America’s first steam locomotive, the “Tom Thumb,” made its first run that very year. America was growing; there was plenty of land available to start a new life and certainly the future would be better than the past.
It was with that spirit of optimism that Bela and Harriet Tryon left their native New England in 1836 for more than 1,000 acres of rich prairie in the newly opened Illinois territory, 60 miles northwest of the soon-to-be incorporated city of Chicago. Farming was a principal occupation in early Illinois, with its rich, fertile farmlands.
The Tryons’ journey west is remarkable for a number of reasons: They were in their 40s – older by 1830s standards; they had two small boys in tow; and travel was long and cumbersome. Their new home also posed potential dangers. The land they had acquired was Indian Territory the year prior, and there were still roaming bands of Indians, as well as “prairie pirates” – white men who preyed on remote farmsteads. Despite the odds, the Tryons endured the journey and began their new life.
In 1837, the Tryons built a log cabin across the road from the present Tryon House, in which they lived until building materials could be delivered by horse and wagon from Chicago. When all the materials arrived, they constructed a large and commodious residence. Tryon House, as seen today, is the result of the efforts of Bela and Harriet’s eldest son, Charles Hopkins Tryon, who built the present structure in the 1860s and 1870s. This building, in its original incarnation, had many reception rooms, a ballroom on the second floor and several wide verandahs. The rooms were decorated in the style of the time, including beautiful plaster ceilings and elaborate hand-grained woodwork.
One House, Many Purposes
Tryon Grove Farm was one of the larger farms in antebellum McHenry County. Harriet made a practice of inviting all of the bachelors in the area to dinner, and she mended the occasional tear in their clothes and replaced missing buttons.
It was at one of these gatherings that Harriet made local history. After dinner, the guests were singing hymns and the “Old Hebron,” was played. “This is my choice of all tunes and I believe it is the proper name for our new township,” Harriet said. The idea was received with favor, and to this day, it’s the only instance in McHenry County that a woman has named a township division.
In addition to a center of hospitality, the Tryon House became a center of mail delivery. In 1839, there was no postal service in the township, so Bela took it upon himself to organize delivery to his farm. Neighboring farmers could pick up their mail and send letters and packages. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. government established a full-fledged post office at Meads Station (now the town of Hebron). Not only was Bela the first postmaster of Hebron, he was one of the first McHenry County commissioners and the first Justice of the Peace.
Charles Hopkins Tryon’s Rise
The Civil War impacted many families in McHenry County, including the Tryons. Charles Hopkins Tryon assembled a company of volunteers and led them through some of the fiercest battles of the war. Elected as a captain in the 95th Illinois Volunteer Infantry of the Grand Army of the Republic, he was called by his title, as a courtesy, for the rest of his life.
In 1883, he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives and served several terms representing agricultural interests. He promoted the use of telegraphic communication in rural areas.
From Near Disrepair to Glory
In the early 1900s, Tryon Grove Farm left family ownership and suffered neglect. Land was sold off and the farm rented out to a number of tenant farmers. The Great Depression and two world wars did not encourage preservation of the buildings and the house was reduced in size.
But the tide turned in the 1960s when Elmer Holdorf acquired the farm and made some significant renovations. He installed indoor plumbing and modernized some of the rooms. He also built a modern kitchen and installed a heating system. In the 1970s, a later owner added an indoor pool, landscaped the grounds and upgraded the electric service.
Tryon Grove Farm presides prominently over Tryon Grove Road, a designated “Scenic Drive,” by McHenry County Historical Society. The road provides a rolling pathway through one of the most aesthetically pleasing vistas in McHenry County. Rolling hillsides, meadows and remnant oak savannahs provide a reminder of what the area presented to the 1830s settlers.
A New Chapter to Begin
The Englerts are selling this special piece of McHenry County history so a new owner can delight in the Tryon Grove Farm tradition. “We would like to see the new owners of Tryon Grove Farm enjoy their lives here as much as we have enjoyed ours,” Donald said.
The home is an outstanding example of cross-gabled bracketed Italianate architecture. It has approximately 2,887 square feet with an additional 1,848-square-foot pool/sauna. The house has nine spacious rooms with 10- foot ceilings ornately trimmed with decorative medallions and plaster crown moldings.
The exterior has painted clapboard siding, a wood shingle roof and rebuilt brick chimney. The 60-foot wrap-around porch has been renovated with a new roof, floor and historically accurate sawn balusters. All windows have been replaced with new architecturally correct Marvin thermopanes.
The original barn was replaced in 1912 and new identical copies of the original cupolas replaced the old in the late 1990s. The remaining outbuildings are in good standing, several have been restored to their original condition. Several owners have raised, trained and boarded horses since the restored barn has 18 stalls. Former owner Stresen-Reuter worked with llamas. The Englerts at one time raised grassfed polled Herefords, sheep, goats, chickens and ducks.
“It is exciting to think that a new generation of agricultural entrepreneurs may be poised to continue the proud legacy that Tryon Grove Farm represents.”
“Preservation of the agricultural and cultural legacy of the property would surely please us,” Donald said of his hope for the property’s fate. “We could envision any number of future uses including livestock, dairy, horses, vegetable production, community-supported agriculture, cheesemaking, a vineyard or a sustainable farming demonstration center. It is exciting to think that a new generation of agricultural entrepreneurs may be poised to continue the proud legacy that Tryon Grove Farm represents.”
Learn more about this unique piece of McHenry County History and all the property has to offer at tryongrovefarm.com. For more information, call Don: 815.648.2112; or Felecia: 815-236-2256. Special thanks to the Englert family, McHenry County Historical Society, McHenry County Historic Preservation Commission and eyewitnesstohistory.com.