- Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was contributed by Brian Lawrence of the Elgin Police Department
The city of Elgin is famous for many things: The Elgin National Watch Company made world-renowned timepieces from 1864 until its closure in 1968, and its observatory still stands at 312 Watch St. In 1865, Gail Borden established the Elgin Milk Condensing Company on the land where the Centre of Elgin now sits. The nationally famous Elgin Road Races were held here between 1910 and 1920 and drew tens of thousands of spectators from all over the country.
One piece of historical Elgin trivia that is not nearly as well known has a direct connection to our police department. It centers on the man who served as the city’s police marshal for one term, from 1887 to 1888.
The man’s name was Andrew Barclay Spurling.
Spurling was born in Cranberry Isles, Maine on March 20, 1833. Following in the footsteps of his father, who fought the British Navy during the War of 1812, Spurling became a sailor at the age of 12.
Six years later, he found himself in California, where he tried his hand at mining, farming, and being a cowboy. Spurling was radically opposed to slavery and was rumored to have fought a duel with a Southern man. Though yet barely a man, he won the battle using the chosen weapon: Bowie knives! The wounded Southerner begged for mercy, and fortunately for the Southerner, Spurling gave it to him.
After the outbreak of the Civil War, Spurling volunteered to fight for the Union. Having returned to his home state in 1855, he was commissioned as a first lieutenant in a Maine cavalry regiment.
Throughout his distinguished service, Spurling suffered numerous wounds and was rewarded with battlefield promotions, eventually achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel.
After the war, Spurling took a government job in Chicago and speculated in real estate. He was a primary investor in the Chicago Rawhide Manufacturing Company and served 12 years as its president. In 1950, Chicago Rawhide opened a plant in Elgin.
Spurling next moved to Elgin and became friends with Mayor Vincent S. Lovell, who appointed him to the position of city marshal in 1887. The 54 year-old war veteran earned a reputation for enforcing laws equally and without preference or bias.
Spurling even had officers arrest his own son for disorderly conduct! The bar owners came to learn that the closing times would now be strictly enforced, regardless of who they knew within Elgin’s city government.
Because of his refusal to give preferential treatment to Elgin’s “connected” citizenry or the influential saloon operators, the City Council refused to renew Spurling’s appointment as marshal, and he returned to real estate.
In 1894, Spurling unsuccessfully ran for Kane County sheriff and after the election moved back to Chicago.
On Sept. 10, 1897, Spurling finally received national recognition for his war service when he was awarded the Medal of Honor. He earned it for his March 1865 exploits at Evergreen, AL.
According to the medal’s citation, “Lieutenant Colonel Spurling advanced alone in the darkness beyond the picket line, came upon three of the enemy, fired upon them (his fire being returned), wounded two, and captured the whole party.”
Spurling was also commissioned with the breveted rank of brigadier general.
Spurling’s last years were spent in relative poverty, with his real estate speculation having ended in abject failure. Subsisting on a monthly government pension of only $50, he died on Aug. 13, 1906, at the age of 73.
Andrew Barclay Spurling is buried in Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.
The Elgin Police Department has an active volunteer history group dedicated to sharing department history through the museum cases in the lobby. The group collects police department history and educates the public on how policing has changed and evolved with the city of Elgin. Stop in any time and see the exhibits at 151 Douglas Ave. in Elgin!
Visit The Elgin History Museum!
Visit the Elgin History Museum at 360 Park St. in Elgin. Step back into history as you enter Old Main, the stately Greek Revival school building opened in 1856. Two floors of interactive exhibits help you time travel back to Elgin’s beginnings in 1835. Hear the tick of an Elgin Watch or the roar of the crowd at the Elgin Road Races.
Be sure to see the new exhibit, Education For All: Elgin High School 150 Years, and hear the school’s fight song! Open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Admission is free for members, $3 for guests, $1 for students and free to children.
Read The Kane County History Series!
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