THE HIDDEN TAVERN: HERMAN-IN-THE-WOODS

Tucked away in the Friendship Village woods, there once stood a small dance pavilion and tavern.  It was called Herman-In-The-Woods and was appropriately named for its owner, Herman Somogi.

In 1928, Simon Strauss sold the property, with its dance pavilion, to Herman and his wife, Julia.  The pavilion structure, based on a loose description by oral historian Ralph Engelking, was a modest dance hall with a wooden floor and large shutters that swung up and opened the building to the nighttime air.

Before the Somogi’s ownership the area was called Schween’s Grove and was named for Ernest P. Schween, the original land grant owner of the property.  The grove had been used by local people as a bucolic picnic area and, at some point, a dance pavilion was erected on the property.  Mr. Engelking, who was born in 1922, remembered his parents going to the pavilion when he was a boy.

In an August 10, 1934 issue of the Cook County Herald, there is a mention that Herman Somogi of Palatine applied for a liquor license.  This was a year after prohibition ended and the Somogis were probably hoping to capitalize on the potential of a drinking establishment near the center of the township.  Mr. Engelking also mentioned that a barrel of beer could usually be found outside the pavilion for those wanting to quench their thirst on dance nights.

Judging by a small article in the Cook County Herald from August 9, 1940, it seems that the Somogis had built a new pavilion around that time.  “Miss Mildred Springinsguth and Mr. Fred Salge played a few tunes for a group of people who wanted to try the new dance hall in Schaumburg Grove.  A group consisting of local people find that the floor is marvelous for dancing.  Miss Springinsguth played her piano accordion and Fred Salge played his faithful concertina.”

Two days later on August 11, Mr. Somogi and Frank Sporleder, who lived on an adjoining farm, held the “first Schaumburg picnic” in the former Schween’s grove.  Music was provided by Heine’s orchestra with “usual picnic attractions.”  A week later it was reported in the August 16 issue of the Cook County Herald that the first annual picnic and dance was successful enough that Mr. Sporleder planned another picnic and dance for August 25.

The following year, according to a July 4, 1941 article, the Somogis started their picnic and dance season on the Fourth of July.  A month later, Mr. Somogi resurrected the Old Settlers Picnic which had been famous 30 years prior.  Again, Heine’s seven piece orchestra provided the music.

Unfortunately, during the entertainment, “a light fixture was stolen from the dining room.”  That last statement gives us an indication that sometime between the liquor license application in 1934 and the picnic in 1941, Herman and Julia moved from Palatine and built the combination tavern/home on the property that was discussed in a few of the oral histories. Another brief in 1941 confirms that there was a dining room on the premises when it mentions “those famous squab dinners for which Mrs. Somogi is so well known.”  (A squab is a young pigeon–similar in size but not taste–to a Cornish game hen.)

Based on a legal notice in the March 26, 1956 issue of the Daily Herald that reported an application of a liquor license, it appears that some time between 1941 and 1956, the Somogis changed the name of their establishment to the “Top Side Inn.”  Four years later, in another article on June 9, 1960, it is mentioned that “the village of Schaumburg’s most secluded tavern, The Topside Inn–more familiarly known to local residents as Herman-in-the-Woods–would soon be under new ownership.”  (Clearly the old name had remained popular.)

Bernard and Robena (or Roberta) Schnell of Chicago successfully applied for a liquor license and named the tavern, Barney’s Tap.  For five years they ran the tavern while living on the premises, until Mr. Schnell died on December 5 after suffering a heart attack at his home “above Barney’s Tap.”

A year later when the new, unnamed owners tried to apply for rezoning, the application was denied by the village of Schaumburg.  At some point, after the village was organized and the tavern area was incorporated, the village rezoned the area from commercial to residential.  Because the tavern was already established, it was grandfathered in.  As stated in an April 14, 1966 article in the Daily Herald, “President Robert O. Atcher pointed out that because of the special circumstances, once the tavern ceased operation, the property would automatically be restricted to residential use.”

Despite subdivision and hospital possibilities that were later suggested for the property–and did not come to fruition–it was Friendship Village that inevitably purchased the acreage. They opened their doors in 1977 behind the woods that contained the hidden dance hall and tavern.  And hidden it was.  It was virtually nonexistent in the May, 1959 phone book.  Mr. Somogi was listed, but not his establishment.  Not Herman-in-the-Woods.  Not The Topside Inn.  It was definitely a small part of our history that tried to go missing but did not succeed!

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library
jrozek@stdl.org

Some of the information in this blog posting, as well as the photos of the concrete footings and the map of the tavern premises were provided by Herb Demmel in his document called The Ownership of Sarah’s Grove that can be found on the library’s Local History Digital Archive.  I thank him for his work!

 

2 Responses to “THE HIDDEN TAVERN: HERMAN-IN-THE-WOODS”

  1. Fred Luft Says:

    I remember around 1963 after playing a little league game (our team was the Chicago White Sox) in the baseball field next to Blackhawk school on Illinois Blvd at Schaumburg Rd. (Now where the Schaumburg Township building is located) the coaches would take us to this place and they would get us a coke cola and we would sit at a picnic table/play around and they would be inside having a “cold one” as they would call it.

  2. Bruce J Trivellini Says:

    I remember one could see the iconic Pabst Blue Ribbon lighted window sign when you drove past on Schaumburg Road….circa 1960’s. A few of those “cold ones” that Fred mentions above were the cause of a few Robert Frost faculty members having troubles getting out of the woods by car…LOL. If memory serve me correctly the bar was done serving the community by 1970.

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