Although the town is named in honor of Thomas Stillwell Huntley, he was not the first to settle in this area.
The Whittemore and Cummings families were generally regarded as among the first settlers to make a mark on the area.
Prescott Whittemore and his wife, Lucy Geer Whittemore, came to this area in 1838 from New Hampshire. They loaded all their personal belongings and their 10 children onto two wagons and spent nearly seven weeks making the journey over land to Illinois.
For years the family lived in a makeshift shelter while they built their new home, which was completed in 1841. That home still stands today on Marengo Road, about a mile and a quarter west of town. It was plaqued by the McHenry County Historical Society in 1983 as historic county landmark.
Prescott Whittemore’s name was associated with many firsts in Huntley.
The Whittemore’s small, original shelter was the site of the first religious services held in the area in 1839. The services were conducted by a Baptist minister.
The Whittemore’s home also served as the first hotel, or inn, in the area, for the convenience of travelers going to the west.
Prescott Whittemore was on the first slate of officers for the new Grafton Township in 1850. He was elected Overseer of the Poor in that first township election. It was Whittemore who had named the township for his home township of Grafton, New Hampshire.
The Whittemore’s son, Washington Whittemore (1823-1897), came to the northern Illinois area with his parents when he was a teenager.
During his life he worked splitting rails for settlers and helped with surveying for the railroad as it was being constructed through Huntley just before 1851.
Washington Whittemore married Susan Perry, a relative of Commodore (Oliver Hazard) Perry (the Lake Erie naval hero of the War of 1812). Washington and Susan Whittemore had four children.
Washington’s son Willis Whittemore built the house on Main Street at the southwestern corner at Lincoln Street. Willis was Huntley’s police magistrate from 1904 to 1937.
Washington and Willis and their wives are buried in the Huntley Cemetery.
Guy and Eleanor Cummings
Guy Cummings (1789 – 1862) was born in New York. At the age of 23 he enlisted as a private in the War of 1812.
He and his wife came to the southern McHenry County area in 1838 and bought 200 acres of land along what is now Main Street.
The Cummings’ historic large, white barn still stands at the Huntley Park District Sun Valley Farm along West Main Street. It is the oldest barn still standing in McHenry County.
The Cummings had 13 children. Two of their sons fought in the Civil War. Willard was a sergeant and orderly who served for four years and was in the Battle of Gettysburg. He died a few years later from the effects of the battle. John Cummings also served in the Civil War, taking part in battles at Fort Donelson and Shiloh.
The Cummings’ son Stewart was among those on the first slate of officers of Grafton Township. He was elected township clerk in 1850. In 1851 he was appointed Huntley’s first postmaster.
The Cummings’ son who made the greatest impact on the village of Huntley was John Cummings (1830 – 1912). John was the first person to serve as Huntley Village President.
He was elected constable in Huntley before he was 21 years of age, but resigned after a year to follow the Gold Rush to California.
In 1852 he bought four horses and a covered wagon for $100 and traveled with several other families from Huntley, making their way through St. Louis, Missouri, through Nebraska, Wyoming and Sale Lake City and through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
While in California, John worked for another Huntley prospector, Lewis Holdrige, who owned 200 horses and rented them to other travelers and prospectors.
At prospecting, John Cummings made $5 a day, but since flour cost $1 a pound, he did not make any profit.
He returned home to Huntley in 1857, purchased half of his father, Guy Cumming’s farm and settled into farming. He married Mary Elizabeth Baldwin in 1859. They later owned a home on Woodstock Street
John was a member of the Huntley Brass Band, which was a lively institution from 1859 until many of the members joined the army to fight in the Civil War. John Cummings enlisted as a musician with the Seventh Illinois Regiment Band. This volunteer group was the first to be mustered into the army from Illinois.
After his war service, he again returned home where he was a merchant, selling and buying hogs and dealing in agriculture implements and real estate. He also sold life insurance.
In 1872, when the village of Huntley was incorporated, John Cummings was elected its first mayor.
Later, when the Huntley Library and Literary Association was organized in 1880, John Cummings was its first president. In 1885 he was Grafton Township assessor.
The 1885 McHenry County History book claims he was “a stirring, enterprising man and has been successful in his business operations.”
It was said John Cummings was a very public spirited citizen, very competent and efficient, a very charitable man. He held at different times, every office in town from constable to village president, and also coroner of McHenry County for one term.
He and his wife had one son, Fred, who ran a furniture store and casket business in Huntley before moving on to Chicago.
John Cummings died in 1912 at age 82 and is buried in the Huntley Cemetery.
Thomas S. Huntley
Village namesake Thomas S. Huntley, as well as his oldest son, Charles, led notable and interesting lives.
Thomas Huntley (1807-1894) was not the first settler to arrive in this area, but he was the first to envision a thriving community here.
Thomas Stillwell Huntley was born March 27, 1807, in Cortland County, New York and lived most of his young adult life there.
Much is known about Thomas Huntley from his lengthy obituary, published in the 1894 Huntley News, and republished in “Huntley Centennial: 1851-1951.”
His pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit most likely came from his father, an early settler in Cortland County, who owned nearly all of Ellicottville, New York, including numerous sawmills and farms and a large, prosperous hotel and tavern.
Thomas Huntley was a studious child who received a good education for his time.
He worked on his family’s farm and in the family businesses until the age of 20. At that time he became a merchant, eventually owning a store of his own.
Thomas Huntley came from an active and prominent family in Ellicottville, New York, and he himself was an active member of the Ellicottville community. He served as town supervisor in 1840 and was a justice of the peace. According to the town history, he was a founding member of the Ellicottville First Presbyterian Church.
In 1830 he married Eliza Fox, the sister of a New York State senator. Eliza also came from a prominent founding family of Ellicottville.
The Huntleys had three children, Charles, Harriet and William.
In 1846, Thomas Huntley sold his New York property, and headed west by team to open lands in Illinois, near where his brother-in-law Pliny Fox had settled in 1842.
Huntley bought a 640 acre section of farm land in Grafton Township at what is now Conley Road and Rt.47. A few years later, he purchased two additional 40 acre parcels north of there. He paid $1.25 an acre.
Learning the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad line was to go through south of his property, Huntley purchased 80 acres along the proposed railroad line.
On this property he furnished a site for the train station, opened a small general store, built a home, sold lots for businesses and residences, earmarked three lots for churches, set aside another piece to be the town square park, donated land for a cemetery, and thus established Huntley Grove, which also became known as Huntley Station, and then simply Huntley.
The first train came through to the town September 5, 1851.
Because of the rail line, Huntley became a shipping center for butter, eggs, milk and other farm and dairy products, and the town prospered.
Huntley’s young son William died in 1852 at the age of 14. Often omitted from references to Huntley’s children, the 1850 McHenry County/Grafton Township census records indicated William was alive at that time and living with his parents in Huntley. In October of 1850, he was listed as being 12 years old. The cause of William’s death is unknown, although it is known that typhoid fever was rampant in the area in the early 1850s.
In that same 1850 census, Thomas Huntley was listed as a farmer, owning real estate valued at more than $2,100. In 1856 he built a beautiful home on Woodstock Street which still stands today.
Thomas Huntley was an active, public-spirited man, but never aspired to official office. The only office he ever held was as the first supervisor of Grafton Township.
A religious and sympathetic man, Huntley was a founding and active member of the First Congregational Church. He served the church as a deacon and elected church official. He served on the church finance committee, donating much money and even a piano, to the church.
As he watched the village grow, he remained a wealthy farmer, accumulating large amounts of property in northern Illinois and in other states.
He traveled extensively, from Atlantic to Pacific, by wagon team and by rail. He was an early member of the Republican Party and had strong feelings against slavery. He often loaned money to people and would never charge any interest. He trusted people, and he never lost money.
In October 1878, at the age of 71, Huntley became father to his youngest son, Thomas Stillwell Huntley Jr., who was the only one of Huntley’s children to survive him.
When Emma died in 1882, she left the 75 year-old Thomas to rear their nearly 4-year-old son.
When Thomas Huntley died on May 21, 1894, at the age of 87, he was mourned not only as the town’s founder, but also as a much loved and well-respected citizen.
His obituary in the 1894 Huntley News said, “The (First Congregational) church was filled to its utmost capacity and many had to remain outside.”
The article commented that his “kindness and generosity will always be remembered so long as the history of this town remains.”
In prophetic commentary the obituary concluded saying Thomas Huntley’s “name shall be spoken hundreds of times daily for many generations to come.
Another Huntley name to be recalled is that of Thomas’ older son, Charles.
When the Civil War broke out he was among the first from the area to enlist. He assembled 300 other local men to join with him. He was a lieutenant and later a captain in the Sixteenth Illinois Cavalry. His troops were captured after a long battle at Strawberry Plains, Virginia, and Charles Huntley spent the remainder of the war in southern prisoner of war camps, including Libby, and the notorious Andersonville Prison camp in Georgia.
After the war he established a stagecoach route, and later mail route, through to the west. He was in business with his cousin, Silas Huntley, the son of Thomas Huntley’s brother Daniel.
Charles was a very adventurous and enterprising young man and a very astute businessman.
Among the companies in which Charles C. Huntley had an interest were the Northwest Stage Company, which was engaged in transporting mail and passengers on routes from the present day Fargo, North Dakota, through Montana and later, Oregon and into the Utah, Idaho, and Washington territories, and the Oregon & California Stage Company, which was engaged in similar business on the route from California, to Portland, Oregon.
The Wells Fargo Company eventually purchased the routes to add to their many routes, paying Huntley $10,000. That along with his earnings for a year and a half netted him $20,000 besides his stock.
Charles Huntley immediately established other routes, to Oregon and the Dakotas and managed these for eight years.
He was a wealthy man when paralysis, brought on by exposure and starvation during his prisoner of war years, caused him to abandon his business and return home to Huntley where he died at age 49.
Thomas Huntley, Charles Huntley and other members of the Huntley family are buried in the Huntley Cemetery on Dean Street.