The Marengo area was originally known as Pleasant Grove. The current name was adopted about the same time the community became a village. Apparently it was so named because it’s located in Marengo township, but where the township name comes from I was unable to discover. Napoleon and and his French army defeated the Austrians in a battle near Marengo, Italy in 1800, so it’s not impossible that a participant in that battle settled in the area and named it in honor of what was likely the most memorable occasion of his life.
I spent about five hours in and around the town on a damp, gray day in mid-December and here’s what I saw.
Wonder Number One — Flatlander Market
Flatlander is a deli/bakery located in the old George Samter Building (1853) downtown.
I arrived at 9:30 and ordered a bacon, egg and cheese bagel and a raspberry tart. Customers, obviously locals, filled two tables when I arrived, but they soon left.
When I finished eating, I wandered up and down the main street, but most of the stores (several of them thrift shops) were closed. I went inside the old-style pharmacy in search of adventure but came out with nothing but a can of Snapple fruit punch and a “Merry Christmas” from a very enthusiastic clerk.
As I was heading back up the street, I saw three people walking toward me. I recognized them as my coworker Lynn Jorgensen with her husband and daughter. They were in town to see Donna’s children perform in the school Christmas program and were following that up with breakfast. They invited me to join them, and I did — back in the Flatlander. I didn’t buy any more food, but drank my Snapple while they ate.
Wonder Number Two — Manger Scene made from potato chips
The Flatlander makes its own chips, and somebody has assembled a manger scene from them. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, I thought this was a bit “like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
Wonder Number Three — This mailbox
After seeing all there was to see downtown, I visited the McDonald’s — notable because one of the only school buildings designed by famous architect Louis Sullivan was torn down to make room for it.
I drove around town in search of other sights. It didn’t take long, only about two blocks, to get from town to country.
Wonder Number Four — Mail-Order House
From 1908 until 1940, Sears, Roebuck & Co. offered entire houses for sale through their catalog. Customers picked one of several models, and all the raw materials, down to the nails were shipped. More than 70,000 people bought a home this way.
The Dr. William Gooder House in Marengo, built in 1925, is one example.
Wonder Number Five — Odd connections to dead Presidents
Route 20, including the stretch through Marengo, has been designated the U.S. Grant Memorial Highway
Later, was I was driving through the Marengo City Cemetery, I happened upon this monument.
It reads, “In Memory of Abraham Lincoln Who bound the Union, And unbound the Slave.”
There’s also a Washington Street, a Van Buren Street, an Adams Street, a Jackson Street and the area was once named Jefferson.
Wonder Number Six — The terminus of the H.U.M. Trail
I’ve posted on my experiences on this trail before. I won’t bother to do so again other than to mention that I walked a quick four-and-a-half miles on it to burn off breakfast so I could eat lunch. Items of note along the trail were non-existent, unless you count sheep and fungi.
I twice passed a jogger who wore inappropriately tight clothing and hair halfway down his back. One of the passings was near the pasture, and as he jogged by he said, “It took me a mile to figure out those were sheep.” Even upon further reflection, I’m not sure what that meant or why he thought to tell me.
I followed the map closely and managed to avoid making any wrong turns.
Wonder Number Seven — Carl Lundgren
Lundy Lundgren pitched for the Cubs from 1902 to 1909, a period which included their last two World Series Championships in 1907 and 1908. About his talent, one newspaper wrote, “He had everything including speed to burn green hickory and an assortment of curves that would keep a criptograph specialist figuring all night but he was wild as a March hare in a cyclone and couldn’t locate the plate with a field glass.” For his Major League career, he went 91-55. His best year was 1907 when he went 18-7 with a ERA of 1.17 (second best in the league). His nickname was “The Human Icicle” because he was most effective when it was cold.
Lundgren was born in Marengo. There is a historical marker near the field where he pitched in school.
His gravestone is in the Marengo Cemetery, right across from the plaque. It can be seen in the left distance in the photo of the Lincoln monument.
The Lundgren home, where Carl was born, sits right on Route 20. In 1934, his sister lived there. Carl was in town for a visit when he felt ill and asked to be taken to the house. He died there of a heart attack at the age of 54. The house was built in the 1880’s and is currently for sale.
I drove around some more looking for further adventures. The town does have a lot of old buildings, some of them quite impressive.
The other restaurant in town that I wanted to try — Fire and Ice Smokehouse and Creamery — is closed on Mondays. Nothing else looked interesting, so I returned to Flatlander for a third time and ordered ham and cheese. It was excellent. The home-made chips were pretty good, but I found no wise men among them.
Marengo isn’t large, and there isn’t much to do, exactly, but the old buildings are impressive and it still has very much the feel of a small town, although suburban-type subdivisions are cropping up on the fringes.
Suggested Town Slogan — A World Champion Chicago Cub Lived Here!