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Bill Crittenden
September 30, 2013

None of us really gets to pick our hometown.  It's just where we were born or where our parents lived.

My original hometowns are the inseparable field of subdivisions of Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg.  We lived in Hoffman for six years, then in a far corner of Schaumburg a few blocks off of Hoffman's main street between the (now former) police station and the high school.

I lived a few years in Wonder Lake with my new wife and her parents and in 2005 we moved to a duplex at the north end of Woodstock.  It was a nice arrangement, sharing an asymmetrical duplex, renting the smaller side from her parents.  Being close, but not too close.

And I hated it.  I hated the Illinois politics, the lack of good restaurants, the lack of jobs.  Not even a Walmart when we moved in, and not a very good one now.  I've never seen so many flies at a restaurant that hasn't been shut down for health code violations as at the one McDonald's on Route 47.  Pirro's actually did put me in the hospital (that place did close, but I don't know why).

Oh, Route 47.  Two lanes through town, the only good way to get from north to south or back home again, and all the good stuff we wanted to do was southbound out of town.  Small-town living, almost Schaumburg-level traffic at rush hour.

As I've mellowed over the years, Woodstock has improved.  We have a great Cub Scout group with Pack 367, of which my son is a member.  Chef Robert Irvine came to town and fixed up Angelo's on the Square and the movie theater is undergoing renovations to be a real destination for date night.  Calogero's, Porkie's, and Jimmie Johns ensure that folks can get a great meal out without driving to Algonquin.

And as The Crittenden Automotive Library wasn't even a dream in the back of my head when I unpacked here, I find it fascinating how well it fits in with the local history.

Let's start with the most basic elements from furthest in the past.  The name Woodstock can be traced from resident Joel Johnson's suggestion that the town be given a name better than the ambiguous Centerville, and in 1845 it became known as Woodstock after Johnson's hometown of Woodstock, Vermont.  The Woodstock in Vermont is an old New England town named for the Woodstock in Oxfordshire.  Woodstock in Oxfordshire, aside from generally comforting my inner Anglophile with a historical name, also is the home of Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill.  As my home in Schaumburg was at the corner of Blenheim and Chartwell in the Churchill Subdivision, I had naturally read of and admired Winston Churchill at a young age.  A pleasant coincidence.

It was after the 1894 Pullman strike that union leader Eugene V. Debs was sentenced to serve time, and wanting to separate him from his sympathizers he was sent to Woodstock.  It was here, reportedly, that he encountered the works of Karl Marx and went from union leader to Socialist politician.  When I learned of this it was quite an eyebrow raiser.  Always the shy type in front of more than two people, I had been encouraged by a friend to join my high school's speech team.  From there I found that once I became comfortable with it I actually enjoyed it.  College speech class was actually fun, and the final project was to study a famous speaker and comment on their style.  I ended up, somehow, with Eugene V. Debs.  Despite disagreeing politically, to say the least, I came to admire his oratory style.  I still remember much of my final project speech and some of the lessons I learned from him 10 years later.

I've obviously "come out of my shell" since then!

The most interesting aspect of Woodstock, and what almost looks like a fateful connection, is that after Debs' short stay Woodstock became a manufacturing hub of typewriters for some time.  It wasn't anything special about the town that made it geographically perfect for making typewriters, just an industry-friendly railway link and a local labor force and coincidence.  Woodstock was home to the Emerson Typewriter Company, and in 1896 the Chicago-based Oliver Typewriter Company was offered a factory building in Woodstock on condition it stay there at least 5 years.  By 1922, Woodstock was building more than half the world's typewriters.  In 1928, the Oliver company was sold and moved to Britain, and today the old Emerson plant is the Emerson Lofts condominiums.

That period from 1896 to 1922, specifically, is a fateful period for The Crittenden Automotive Library, starting with Karl Benz's Patent Motor Wagen in 1896 and ending with the beginning of the oldest copyright terms in the United States (the effective end date of everything being in the public domain) at the end of 1922.

There is a ton of material available from this period, hand typed and hand set into mechanical printing presses, and much of it was at some point, before it went to the presses, pounded out on a typewriter that was made in Woodstock.  From wherever they were printed, the newspapers have been collected and digitized by Google and the Library of Congress, but much of the OCR image-to-text conversion is gibberish.  Using more modern means than typewriters, the articles about cars & trucks are being converted back into searchable text by...you guessed it...The Crittenden Automotive Library in Woodstock.

Today, Woodstock is the home of reknowned customizer Schwartz Performance, the epic Woodstock Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership, hosts several motocross & car show events at the McHenry County Fairgrounds (as well as a demolition derby during the county fair), is twenty-five minutes away by car from the Volo Auto Museum, and hopefully, someday, folks around here who love cars will be proud to say that my Library is in their town, too.

Yes, I'm happy to be here now.  If only we had more hills, and Illinois could get a better license plate design, and perhaps our own Chick-Fil-A...

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