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posted: 8/25/2014 2:39 PM

Chickens in Elgin? Not so rare 100 years ago

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  • A 1935 ad from the Fox Valley Hatchery shows raising chicks was big business in Elgin.

      A 1935 ad from the Fox Valley Hatchery shows raising chicks was big business in Elgin.
    Courtesy of Gail Borden Public Library

  • Chickens were commonplace in Elgin a century ago, as shown in the undated photo of a resident's yard.

      Chickens were commonplace in Elgin a century ago, as shown in the undated photo of a resident's yard.
    Courtesy of Elgin History Museum

 

Elgin's current city ordinances are quite to the point when it comes to maintaining farm animals in the city.

"Cows, horses, pigs or chickens" and other such creatures are simply not allowed.

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This may change slightly in the near future as Elgin considers joining other communities in allowing chickens to be raised within the city. But, a return to the days of a century ago when chickens -- and other farm animals -- shared the city with us is far from likely.

Here's a look at how the 1907 city ordinance addressed such animals within the city confines.

Anyone wanting to raise poultry in the city found no rules prohibiting such activities. One of the few stipulations said that "geese, ducks, turkeys, hens, or chickens not be in the streets." Owners were also required to keep these animals on their own property. Offenders were liable for fines of at least $1 but no more than $5.

Raising poultry became so popular that a show launched by the Elgin Poultry Association in 1899 became an annual event. Attracting thousands, the downtown exhibition featured a variety of species as well as pigeons, doves, hares and guinea pigs. Various prizes were offered to the competitors.

The raising of poultry at home carried some risks and in 1911, an Elgin health officer cautioned residents against keeping birds in their basements. He also advocated for greater distances between chicken coops and other buildings.

Poultry raising in the Elgin area went on to became rather commercialized with the opening of businesses such as the Fox Valley Hatchery, Elgin Washer & Poultry Sales, and Baier's Quality Hatchery. For a time, the Elgin area produced over one million chicks per year.

Besides chickens, Elgin's ordinance also allowed for horses and cattle within the city limits -- with regulations that might seem odd by today's standards. Anyone in charge of a horse-drawn vehicle could expect automobiles, motorcycles or bicyclists to come to a complete stop if there was any chance they might frighten the animal.

Horse owners were also asked to limit their speed to 6 miles per hour in the downtown and 10 miles per hour elsewhere in the city. Also, racing horses were also prohibited and anyone pulling a sleigh was required to have bells.

When stopping, owners were required to be sure their horses were attended to. Horses could also not be hitched for more than three hours.

Anyone driving cattle across any downtown bridge was told that they needed to limit them to the speed of a "common walk." They were also told no more 25 cattle or horses could be on the bridge at any one time.

Have a barn for your livestock? Better limit the number to "three head of cattle, swine, sheep, or goat," according to city officials. The barn must be built at least thirty feet from other structures and any animals brought outside needed to be kept at least 300 feet from other buildings including churches and schools. Grazing on tree banks was also expressly prohibited.

While the popularity of raising poultry seems to be gaining momentum, it seems unlikely that horses and cattle will become commonplace in the city again. The return to some of the practices of the "good old days" will probably only go so far.

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