Tales of First Village President

Huntley’s first village president was John Cummings, whose career included prospecting.

Village board elections are on the horizon, giving Huntley residents the opportunity to decide who will oversee the community in the future.   

But what kind of man served as the very first village president of our town?

Although established in 1851, Huntley was not incorporated as a village until 1872.   

At that time, John S. Cummings was chosen to lead the newly formed community.

John Cummings was been born in New York in 1830, the son of Guy and Eleanor Cummings.  Guy Cummings (1789-1862) had served in the War of 1812.

In 1838, Guy and Eleanor packed their belongings and their 10 children and moved to the area that would later become Huntley. They bought 200 acres of land along what is now west Main Street. Their farm today is the Huntley Park District’s Betsey Warrington Park and their historic barn still stands at the park entrance.  The barn is believed to be the oldest barn still standing in McHenry County.

The Cummings children eventually numbered 13, several of them becoming well noted in Huntley history.

Son Willard served for four years as a sergeant and orderly in the Civil War and was in the Battle of Gettysburg. He died a few years later from the effects of the battle.

Son Stewart Cummings was elected Grafton Township’s first township clerk in 1850, and in 1851 he was appointed Huntley’s first postmaster.

Three of the Cummings’ daughters married into the Duff family of Dundee and Chicago. The Dundee Duffs were known to be abolitionists.  Their brick house on Rt. 72 near the corner of Rt. 31 on the south side of the street is plaqued by the Dundee Historical Society and is believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.

But the Cummings’ son who had the most notable career was John Cummings (1830-1912). John was eight years old when he came to Illinois with his family. He first attended the Dundee schools and completed three years at Elgin Academy.

Before he was 21 years of age, he was elected constable for the new town of Huntley, 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 joined several other families from Huntley heading west, making their way through St. Louis, Missouri, Ft. Kearney, Nebraska, Ft. Laramie, Wyoming, Salt Lake City, Utah, and through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. According to John’s journal, while in the mountains the group came across a deep canyon, a mile wide, with ice they believed to be 150 feet deep, because they walked among the tops of the pine trees.  

They could hold the branches while the trunks descended through the ice. Out West, John Cummings worked for a man who was building a log flume.  He recalled that one pine log they cut was 22 feet in diameter.  They got 50,000 posts out of half of the log. He also worked for another Huntley prospector, Lewis Holdridge, who owned 200 horses and rented them out. These jobs provided him income, but at prospecting, John Cummings was not successful.

His gold fever quelled, he returned home to Huntley in 1857, purchased half of his father Guy Cumming’s farm, settled into farming and married Mary Elizabeth Baldwin in 1859. They later owned a home on Woodstock Street.    

John was a member of the lively Huntley Brass Band from 1859 until many of the members joined the Army to fight in the Civil War. John enlisted as a musician with the Seventh Illinois Regiment Band, the first volunteer group to be mustered into the army from Illinois. He took part in battles at Shilo, Belmont, Farmington and at Forts Henry and Donelson and Corinth.Following his war service, he again returned to Huntley, where he was a merchant, later selling and buying hogs and dealing in agricultural implements and real estate. He later sold life insurance.

An active, faithful, reliable and honest man, John Cummings was elected the first mayor of Huntley when the village was incorporated in 1872. In 1880, when the Huntley Library and Literary Association was organized 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 that 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 supervisor 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 to Chicago. John Cummings died in 1912 at age 82 and is buried in the Huntley Cemetery.

Ronda Goldman March 22, 2011 at 01:47 PM
Wonderful article, Nancy. It is interesting and you make history come alive so that we really get to know the people you write about. Ronda Goldman


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