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Business Evolution

The Fox Lake downtown area was the location for John Sayles farm in 1876. His log cabin was near the current watertower. After his passing, his son, Ed O. Sayles, had some visionary ideas. While he farmed a significant portion of the property, he wanted the area to grow. He subdivided the farm and sold lots for bargain rates to encourage commercial development. Additionally, he donated land for streets, and in 1899 and 1900, he sold land to the Cook, Lake and McHenry Counties Railway for $1. His vision was eventually fulfilled when the railroad extended its tracks to Fox Lake and a road developed into a highway (eventually became Route 12).

The lakes, streams, rivers and nature’s other wonders provided the resources needed to develop a booming local economy. During the mid-1800s, the area was populated by rugged outdoorsmen and farmers. When the wealthy saw this area as nature’s perfect playground, they invested money in building their own clubhouses and cottages. They also exerted their influence to improve the rail and highway transportation links. These improved modes of transportation allowed this paradise to open to the common man.

As late as 1890, there were no retail stores on Nippersink Point, but as soon as the trains arrived, commercial buildings were quickly constructed. By 1906 there was definitely an in-process boom town appearance. Improved transportation brought more people, which created a market for more resorts, cottages and stores. Resorts and dance pavilions were being constructed along the shorelines. In a few short years, Fox Lake truly became a “resort community” with a reputation that has endured for decades.

The majority of the new buildings were wooden frame structures because they could be built faster and cheaper. The 1907 incorporation of the Village was initiated by the new business community.

In December 1917, there was a fire started in Pasdeloup’s tavern located at the corner of Nippersink Boulevard and Grand (Main Street) Avenue. It spread quickly and destroyed most of the neighboring downtown businesses. The fire on the north side stopped at Koeth’s Tavern, the only cement block building in town. The burned-out section of town was rebuilt, only this time primarily with brick or block construction. Since that time, there have been a number of fires in some of these buildings that have been contained.

In addition to the downtown, summer cottages and resorts were being rapidly constructed. This did not please the wealthy sportsmen who built the early clubhouses to enjoy the quiet surroundings. Consequently, they began migrating further north into Wisconsin in search of more exclusive surroundings. Many of their clubs were sold and converted into public resorts and hotels (the Mineola, Waltonian, etc.).

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