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The Fox Lake Story: Dunnell House Marked a Chapter in Early History of Lakes Area



The Fox Lake Story: Dunnell House Marked a Chapter in Early History of Lakes Area 
        By Ray Walsh 
Published in the Fox Lake Press January 31, 1957.

        (In 1957, Fox Lake's golden anniversary year, reminiscences about the early days of the Fox Lake area were being reported by Ray Walsh for the Press. This is the story of the Dunnell family.)

        The first Dunnells came into the country of the Pistakee Lakes and to the Nippersink Point settlement at a date hard to determine, but probably more than 100 years ago. (i.e., before 1857) 
        There were the first Harry, his wife, and son, Harry Jr.  They were squatters in a log cabin on the side of the hill about where the Roy Klaus store stands today.  This land then belonged to John Sayles. 
        Old Harry was by all accounts quite a woodsman, hunter and fisherman.  Young Harry, having been well taught by his father, soon became his equal, and as the lakes in those days were full of fish and the country abounded in game, they soon entered into the guiding of the hunters and fishermen who were then beginning to come to this country of lakes. 
        Harry Jr. in 1865 married Cynthia Sayles.  Cynthia was born in 1850 in a log cabin on the hill near the present fire station.  She was the daughter of John and Betsy Sayles.  It was said that John did not approve of Cynthia marrying Harry at the age of 15, and so did not provide for her at that time, but the young people were not to be stopped.  They walked down to Volo and were married there by Squire Rogers. 
        However, Cynthia's brother, Ed, did not think she had been treated fairly, and later helped her buy the land where she and her husband established the Dunnell House Resort. This would be today on the hill west of Route 12, south of west Oak Street. 
        This site was purchased from J. L. Tweed in 1877.  It is evident that before 1849, William Wisner was the first owner of all this land along the Pistakee shore, having taken it up from the government. 
        Cynthia was also deeded other land by her brother, Ed, including a tract adjoining North Forest Avenue. 
        Harry and Cynthia were the parents of a daughter, Mabel, and three sons, Harry, Bert, and Will. 
        They had started their resort in a large log cabin and soon built a large frame building adjoining this cabin; this was the first Dunnell House Resort. 
        The Dunnells had soon established a good resort business.  They trapped, hunted and fished, and kept their ice house filled with fish and game, ready for the use of their guests and friends. 
        Old Harry, I have been told, did quite a bit of clamming.  Fresh water clams were found in beds, in take shallow water along the shores of the river banks and islands.  They were brought up with a large rake, examined for pearls, and the shells sold to the button factories. 
        At one time there was no channel between the Nippersink and Pistakee lakes, where the first bridge is now located. The only channel then was the river to the west.  In order that they might bring their boats in close to the hotel, the Dunnell boys with Connie Marble dug a ditch by hand between 
the two lakes. 
        Connie Marble had a place to the north of the Dunnells, close to where this channel was dug. 
        Later, it was said, Otto Muercke of the Illinois Hotel, aided in the widening of this first channel, providing room for larger boats.  This also caused a strong current and fresher water along the east shore of Nippersink Lake.  This today is a wide, deep channel, heavily traveled by power boats. 
        The Dunnell boys, as were all of the early lake and river men of this lake country, were expert shots.  They, especially Bert, with the Graham brothers of Long Lake, took part in many trap shooting meets.  They won many trophies and at one time held the championship of the world for a five man team. 
        It is a matter of record that here in Grant Township there were at one time more expert trapshooters than at any other place in the world.  This I will write of later. 
        Nearly all of those old expert trapshooters and hunters have left this earth.  They would probably not care for the hunting here today. 
        It was safe to hunt with those men; they were experts in handling guns, they shot to kill game, and seldom missed, and were careful of their fellow men.  This is not always true of the hunters today. 
        The old Dunnell house was destroyed by fire about 1896.  It was rebuilt a few feet to the south, and again operated as a resort for many years. 
        Old Harry died in 1899 and his widow, Cynthia, lived with her sons at the resort until her death. 
        In 1939 the property was sold to Albert Hoffmeyer, and he and his father, John, now operate an auto supply house there.(in the 1950s) 
        Mabel Dunnell had married Charles Tilden in 1890.  Charles was the son of Horace and Winnie Tilden, who ran the old Lakeside Hotel at that time. 
        Mabel and Charles had a daughter, Florence, and twin sons, Horace and Forrest, who were better known as Pete and Dutch.  They were taught to jig when quite young by Frank Gerretsen, and entertained the patrons of the Dunnell house.  They also, of course, were experts at hunting and fishing. Forrest died a few years ago and Horace now lives with his nephew, George, of Kings Island. 
        Florence was married to Pete Gendrich.  Pete was a strong man and wrestled in carnivals and circuses.  His wife, Florence, also was a performer in an act using a version of an electric chair.  They had two sons, Charles and George.  They were taught to wrestle in the carnivals when small boys. 
        Florence was burned to death in a fire caused by an explosion of their gasoline stove in their trailer at Pontiac, Ill. in 1923.  They were then traveling with the Ringling Bros. Circus.  Charles now lives in Chicago, and George Gendrich lives at Kings Island. 
        Pete, the father, was said to be quite a man.  He was known to pull automobiles around with his teeth, and was also the first Fox Lake police officer to ride a motorcycle, and served under Frank Gerretsen, who was the town marshal in 1919-1920 under Mayor William Nagle. 
        Mabel separated from Charles Tilden about 1895.  Charles went to northern Wisconsin, and Mabel married Frank Gerretsen. They had two daughters:  Iva, who died in 1956, and Ada, who lives in Fox Lake with her husband, John Anderson.  Frank and Mabel have both passed away. 
        There are today none of the Dunnells living except Ada and Horace, the children of Mabel, and her grandsons, Charles and George Gendrich. 
        The old Dunnell house was quite a place in its day.  The old hunters and trapshooters with their stories and experience, both famous and infamous. The barrels of ducks and fish being shipped to the Chicago hotels.  The mail and supplies coming in on the old steamboats. 
        Old Captain Hill on the Mary Griswold coming up from McHenry blowing from the landings:  three blasts on the whistle for one horse-drawn bus to take off his passengers, or four blasts if more than one bus was needed. Those colorful times of plenty are today but history. 

Linked to"The Fox Lake Story: Dunnell House Marked a Chapter in Early History of Lakes Area," Fox Lake Press (31 January 1957); Mabel Dunnill

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