On Thursday, February 23, WGN Radio’s Your Hometown series is all about Woodstock, a city in McHenry County about 45 miles northwest of Chicago.

McHenry County was formed in 1836 after indigenous peoples had been vacated from the land following a treaty after the Black Hawk War.

Settler Alvin Judd platted a town called Centerville in 1844, built the town’s first frame dwelling, and was its first mayor. Centerville was located in the exact center of McHenry County and designated as the seat of county government. Settler Joel Johnson advocated for a more original name and, in 1845, Centerville was renamed Woodstock after Johnson’s Woodstock, Vermont hometown.  

Woodstock was incorporated as a village in 1852 and a city in 1873.

An artesian spring located on today’s Historic Woodstock Square whose waters were thought to treat various ailments enticed early settlers and prompted an early nickname of “Spring City.” The Spring House Gazebo, first built in 1873, demolished in 1933 and rebuilt in 1976, marks the spring’s location and serves as gathering place for town events. 

The Borden Company had one of the world’s largest dairy processing plants in Woodstock, operating from the late 1800s until 1975. In 1976, the plant became home to the Claussen Pickle Company where the refrigerated pickles are still produced and headquartered.

In the 1900s, Woodstock had a new nickname – “Typewriter City” – and a booming industry. By 1922, nearly half the world’s typewriters were made in Woodstock. It was home to the Oliver Typewriter Company and the Woodstock Typewriter Company (formerly Emerson). Both companies were prominent fixtures in the local community, with active social clubs, baseball teams, and one even had a band. The factory producing Woodstock typewriters was in use until 1970 and later converted into the Emerson Lofts (300 N. Seminary Ave.) for residential living.

Within Historic Woodstock Square are two structures on the National Register of Historic Places: the 1857 Old McHenry Courthouse and 1889 Gothic-style Woodstock Opera House, originally built as the city hall and a multi-purpose building to house the hall, library, auditorium and fire department. The Opera House is a center of arts in northern Illinois, hosting both amateur and professional events. Orson Welles, who attended Woodstock’s Todd School for Boys, performed his first play on the Opera House stage which is now named in his honor. Paul Newman, Ed Asner and others also performed at the Opera House with a summer stock acting troupe.

Residents love the charm of Woodstock, and Hollywood is smitten with the city, too. Scenes from the 1987 film “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” were filmed around the Square, but it is the 1993 Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day” filmed in Woodstock in 1992 that left an indelible mark, drawing visitors from around the world for self-guided walking tours and the early February yearly festival Groundhog Days celebrating the town’s starring role.  

The Woodstock Mural and Sculpture Garden on Main Street, just north of the Historic Square, pays tribute to the stars of the Opera House, the “Groundhog Day” movie and Woodstock Willie, Orson Welles, and Chester Gould, creator of “Dick Tracy” and who drew the comic from his Woodstock home.

Outside of Groundhog Days, Woodstock hosts festivals year-round, including summer band concerts, Christmas celebrations, and a twice-weekly Farmers Market, May through October.

Your Hometown featuring Woodstock is sponsored by the Illinois Lottery – Doing Good and Supporting Illinois Communities. And by McDonald’s. And the City of Woodstock, Real Woodstock and Naturally McHenry County.