The Hayloft cast in 1936. (Photo provided)

TROUT VALLEY – There was a time in America when Chicago was the epicenter of country music, when Saturday nights were reserved for the likes of Gene Autry.

“Nashville and the Nashville country community conveniently swept it under the rug, but believe it or not Chicago was the country music capital back then,” said Stephen Parry, producer of “The Hayloft Gang: The Story of the National Barn Dance” documentary exploring the dance from 1924 through 1960.

Parry, 53, who works for the video production company Image Base, said Sears, Roebuck & Co.’s agricultural foundation launched the program on April 19, 1924, in the former Hotel Sherman at Clark and Randolph streets. It was broadcast on a new AM station – WLS (World’s Largest Store).

Parry will talk about his research at 7 p.m. March 17, at the Trout Valley Barn, 167 Country Commons Road. It is the first of four Sampler Series lectures offered by the McHenry County Historical Society.

Other programs include:

• “Those Magnicent ‘Whizbang’ Traveling Salesmen of Illinois,” 3 p.m. March 31, McHenry County Historical Society Musuem, 6422 Main St., Union. Presented by Ronald Solberg. Chicago has produced more than its share of enterprising salesmen. For more than 150 years, figures such as Marshall Field and his "whizbang drummers” and infomercial king Ron Popeil and his "Pocket Fisherman" have introduced products, services and concepts that are still with us today. Made possible by a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council.

•“Roadside History of Illinois,” 7 p.m. April 7 at the museum. Presented by Stan "Tex" Banash of Norwood Park. The book covers the history of the state from the Ice Age to the present, offering vacationers, tourists and visitors a series of short trips mostly along old U.S. highways, state highways and county roads that provide a glimpse into numerous historic sites as well as the history of nearly 250 significant cities, towns and villages in seven geographical regions.

•  “Behind the Badge,” 7 p.m. April 21, also at the museum. Take a look behind the Dick Tracy comic strip with its technical adviser AMTRAK Police Sgt. Jim Doherty. Learn about the famous detective’s real-life role models.

Series tickets cost $35; $30 for society members. A $10 donation is requested for individual programs. For information or to buy tickets, call 815-923-2267 or visit