THE BATAVIA HISTORIAN

Volume Thirty

No. 2

 

March 1989


 

SOCIETY NEWS

 

Video tapes of parades

 

Due to the great interest in the Augie Mier movies of the 1938-40 parades which were shown at the April meeting, video tapes of the films have been made available for either purchase or loan.  

They may be purchased by anyone by contacting Reel Pro Video, 8 W. Wilson St., Batavia (879-8900). The cost is $20 with half of the fee being donated to the Society. The video tapes also may be borrowed from the Society through the Depot Museum. It is necessary to sign up at the Museum. You will be called when your name is next on the waiting list to pick up the tape.  

A $10.00 security deposit is required which will be returned when the tape is brought back. A maximum time of one week is allowed. Loans are available only for Society members but purchases are for the general public.

 

Books, books, books

 

The Society held an autograph party for Marilyn Robinson April 4th upon the publication of her book on Batavia's history, A LITTLE TOWN IN A BIG WOODS, written for elementary age children. Over 175 people attended the party.

 

The hard-back copies of HISTORIC BATAVIA have been received from the bindery and now are available at the Museum. The hard-back copies sell for $12.00. The price for the soft-back edition has been increased to $9.00. All the books on Batavia are available at the Depot Museum or may be ordered by mail. An order form is printed on the last page of the Newsletter.  A $1.25 postage and handling fee must be added per book for mail orders. The Batavia Chamber of Commerce and the Savery Shop Antiques and the Seymour House Antiques usually have the books on hand if you cannot get to the Museum when it is open. Museum hours are 2 - 4 p.m. every day other than Tuesday and Thursday.

 

Membership

 

Don't forget your 1989 dues if you have not paid. Form is on last page. The Society has three new Life Members so far this year: Alice Nelson, Elna Larson, and Phil Elfstrom.


 

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE OPERA HOUSE ...

 

Joseph BurtonIn the early 1920's, when movies were black and white and silent, and Oscar was only a man's name, Batavia had a movie theater called the Opera House.  It stood on Island Avenue just south of the old First National Bank building and almost next door to the City Hall and Police Dept.  

 

Across the street the village blacksmith carried on his mighty works. For many the Opera House was the setting for the first movie of their lifetime. As I recall, it offered only one show a night. On Saturdays there was an afternoon matinee aimed primarily at kids. This usually meant the show was a “western.

 

Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, William S. Hart, Buck Jones---these were some of the early favorite stars. When the action on the screen got tense, the noise of the audience could be heard on Wilson Street. The admission price was only 10¢. Popcorn, I believe, was only a nickel. The place was usually packed! Interestingly enough, the entire operation was conducted by a family named Eberman.  

 

Mrs. Eberman sat in the box office, took your dime and gave you an admission ticket.  She was a bright and friendly lady. Upstairs in the back of the theater, her son Gussie was in charge of projecting the pictures.  He changed the reels, saw that they appeared in the right order, and when something went wrong he put in a slide that said something like, “Sorry---we'll be back in a minute.”

 

The third member of the family was Izora Eberman, the daughter.  She had bright blond hair and sat way down in front with her piano. Here she provided continuous mood music to match the action on the screen: "Hearts and Flowers" for the love scenes, “Ride of the Valkyries” for the rootin', tootin', shootin' scenes, etc.  Hers was a job that required intense concentration and musicianship, and she did her job well.

 

As time went on, the old Opera House changed hands and names several times. Remodeled and refurbished, it next became known as the Vanity. Ultimately in 1936 it became the Capitol which lasted until 1957.

 

Today Batavia has no movie theater. The site where the Opera House and its descendants once stood now contains shops and offices. I wonder what ever became of Izora Eberman.  

 

My thanks again to Joe Burton for contributing an article for the Newsletter. The Opera House, before the time Joe writes about, was known by at least two other names.  In 1912 it was the Odean Theater, and in its earliest days in the early 1890's or before it was the Music Hall.  I know other places in Batavia showed “movies” in early days and would appreciate your sharing knowledge of such locations for our records.

 

Jim Hanson


NEXT MEETING

 

Plans for the summer meeting of the Society will be announced in the next issue of the Newsletter. Tentatively it is planned for sometime in August.



 

MINI-QUIZ

 

1. What well-known Batavian built the Music Hal ( the subject of Joe Burton's article)?

 

2. Batavia has had at least 4 railroad depots: The Burlington near where Walt's store now is located (our present Depot Museum Bldg.); the C&NW at the corner of Water and Wilson where the Batavia S & L is located; and the C.A. & E. electric line on Wilson St. along the east bank of the river. Where was the fourth depot and what line did it serve?

 

3. What was the purpose of a large red light atop the First National Bank Bldg. at the corner of Island Ave. and Wilson St. in the early 1930's?

 


TWO CIVIL WAR VETERANS

 

With Memorial Day at the end of this month, and having viewed the films of early Memorial Day parades, it seemed fitting to write about two of the veterans of that war who lived unusually long lives in Batavia and were well-respected citizens of the community.

 

Johnny Ozier

 

Johnny Ozier was born a slave, succeeded in joining the Union Army, settled in Chicago after the Civil War, and moved to Batavia following the Chicago fire.  

 

Seventy years ago, in the official records of the Batavia G.A.R. post, the following is recorded:

 

"RESOLUTION PASSED AT A REGULAR MEETING OF THE BATAVIA POST NO. 48, G.A.R. DEPT. OF ILLINOIS, HELD ON MONDAY EVENING AUGUST 11, 1919:

 

Whereas:

 

On the 9th day of June, 1919, another of our comrades was called for his final discharge, therefore be it

Resolved:

 

That by the death of John Ozier we have lost a comrade whom we held in highest esteem, and one who although of a dark skin was as intensely loyal and patriotic as anyone of a lighter skin could possibly be.

 

Although born and living in a Southern State he came to the aid of his Country at an early period of the "Civil War" and served to the end to the best of his ability.

 

Known as "Uncle Johnny” he always had a hearty greeting for his friends, who comprised most of the community. He attained the age granted to but few and especially to members of the G.A.R., that being of one hundred years.

 

Resolved:

 

That a copy of these resolutions be spread on our records, and also that a copy be sent to the family of the deceased." You may recall that Mr. Ozier was one of those who attended the discussions held in the back of the Johnson Store as told in Carl Johnson's recollections of his father's store that was printed in the Newsletter last year.


 

Seymour Wolcott

 

In the movies of the Memorial Day parades shown at the last Society meeting, those in attendance were able to see Seymour Wolcott, the last veteran of the Civil War from Batavia. 

 

Ten years ago the following was read at a Society meeting.  Since only those present had an opportunity to share this verbal picture of Mr. Wolcott as written by his grand-nephew, Oliver Wolcott, it is being repeated here. "I recall my Uncle Seymour as being an extraordinarily distinguished looking gentleman with a waxed mustache and a small goatee. 

 

He remained young at heart, even into his nineties, as he drove a canary yellow Model A Ford coupe with a rumble seat.  

Often he would be seen driving his housekeeper to and from her own home, but invariably she would be sitting in the rumble seat (at his suggestion), lest anyone assume the idea that any improprieties existed between the two.” Seymour Wolcott was born in 1847. In 1863, at the age of sixteen, he enlisted in the Union Army.  

 

He was an active member of Batavia Post #48, G.A.R., Dept. of Illinois. The last entries in the Journals of that post were written by Mr. Wolcott: June 16, 1934: Jas.

 

Stewart died leaving me the only remaining member left. (signed) S. Wolcott, Adj.

 

October 3, 1934:        

Sent to the Women’s Relief Corps $5.00, leaving a balance on hand  . . . . . 66¢.

Mr. Wolcott died in an automobile accident in Wisconsin in the fall of 1940.

 

 

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(Pictures are from Tracy Holbrook’s photos of Batavians taken in 1908 and 1909.)

 


LIFE IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS

 

The following are taken from the memoirs of Laurens and Kenneth Wolcott entitled, "Life in the Good Old Days in a Small Illinois Town: 1872 – 1910”, which was given to the Society by Oliver Wolcott.  

 

Additional excerpts will appear in future editions of the newsletter.

 

 

On my fifth birthday I was given a pair of high leather boots with red leather tops and copper toes with which I was immensely pleased, and displayed to all. All presents, both birthday and Christmas, were mostly of a utilitarian nature in those days --- mittens, caps, crocheted scarves, stockings, boots, shoes, etc. My mother made all my suits, short pants, coats and overcoats, cut out of Father's old clothes.  

 

I earned the money and bought the first "store" overcoat I ever owned when I was in my late teens. As a child I enjoyed most going and spending the day at Grandpa's and Grandma's. They had a large place of several acres and a large, rambling house with an attic over the entire second floor, a dark, damp and mysterious cellar underneath the house with bins for the storing of various vegetables and fruit. There was no such thing in those days as cold storage nor preserving by freezing.  

 

In this cellar in fall and winter were bins of potatoes, pumpkin, turnip, winter squash, parsnips and barrels of apples.  

On the shelves were scores of jars of various home canned vegetables and fruits of all kinds---home grown and home canned. Suspended from floor joists above were home raised, smoked and cured hams and paper sacks of dried herbs.  

 

In later years, when I was ten or a dozen years old, I spent many an hour in this dark cellar sprouting potatoes by hand, one by one, from one bin to another by the light of a dim, smoky lantern.  

 

These later experiences were not as thrilling or mysterious as those when I was five to eight years old. Other things about Grandpa's place that interested me were the big yard and barn. The yard extended from what is now South Batavia Avenue clear back to about 200 feet east of the present quarry bank (now Quarry Park).  

 

On these few acres my grandfather conducted a veritable small farm. He kept ducks and chickens, cows and pigs and a dog. In proper season these were always bringing forth young---always of interest to children. Then he had an orchard of apples, pears, and plums as well as a large vineyard.  Grandfather also raised quite a crop of popcorn which he marketed.  

 

Grandma made Concord grape wine with a hand press for sacramental purposes (if it was ever used otherwise, I never witnessed it). He raised hay for his cows in the orchard. This was harvested by hand by means of a scythe and cradle, dried in the sun and stored in a huge hayloft over the barn. There was a large garden where all sorts of vegetables were raised for immediate use and for preserving for winter. They also ran something of a boarding house, although it was not so called.  

 

At any rate they always had three or four single men roomers whom they also boarded. These men were always very high class. Mr. Fred Beach lived with them for many years. Mr. Perry, who invented the Aermotor, the first steel windmill, lived there during my childhood while employed by the U.S.W.E. & P. Co.  Mr. Wm. Porter, a relative of the Coffin and Lockwood families also lived there.  

 

These boarders paid, for their room and lodging with 21 meals per week and including their personal laundry, from $3.00 to $4.00 per week. No wonder none of them married until after the home was broken up after Grandpa died! Grandma was a mild, kindly, gentle old lady, typical of the old school. I never saw her without her little lace cap on her white-haired head. Both she and Grandfather were very devout people and had family scripture reading and prayers every morning after breakfast and every evening after supper.  

 

They believed it a sin to drive for work or pleasure on a Sunday or to do any unncessary chores. They even popped corn on Saturday for the family gatherings the next day. My folks didn't believe in many sweets for us children and frowned upon such things as putting sugar on bread and butter and told my grandparents so.  

 

The other grandchildren were not thus inhibited. When several of us grandchildren were there together Grandma doubtless realized the unfair discrimination. She would sprinkle my slice of home-made bread and home-made butter with a generous topping of brown sugar. She didn't tell me not to tell my parents but would say, "I don't believe your mama will mind this time if she doesn't know it." Even I, at that tender age, had sense enough to agree and to see that my mother's peace of mind was not disturbed in that respect. There are many memories associated with the old place, mostly pleasant, but some not so much so.  One of the latter I will tell you about.  

 

In the back of the barn where Grandpa kept his cows there was a door leading out into the barnyard and further along the same wall was a small square window through which the manure was thrown on a huge pile just outside whenever the stables were cleaned.  

 

Neither my father nor grandfather were ones to "waste" good straw or hay for bedding so the animals slept pretty much on the bare floor and whatever was cleaned up off the floor morning and night was pretty much the pure stuff. When I was possibly eight or ten years old and playing around at Grandpa's barn I took it into my head to go out in the barnyard. Instead of going through the door, which would have been easy, I, like many children, thought it would be better to go through the small window and jump down from there. I did. I landed on top of the manure pile and kept right on going through to my armpits.  

 

What had appeared to be a well-dried out and crusted over compost pile proved to be a crusted-over pile of sloppy, wet cow manure. After wallowing out of it I made for home through the back yards from Grandfather's to our house as fast as I could. I was a sight and a mess.

 

My mother was a mad woman. She, of course, didn't let me in the house and humiliated me by making me undress completely naked out in the yard while she sloshed water over me with a bucket.

 

My clothes she put to soak out in the yard in a tub. There was no city water or hose in those days to facilitate such a cleaning up as was necessary.

 

Some jobs I remember with less pleasure are such as turning the grindstone for Grandfather to sharpen his scythes and other tools. My! How he could bear down on that stone and keep me at it until I thought my arms would drop off.

 

At other times on Saturdays, and during vacation times when other boys were fishing, playing ball or swimming, I felt abused when Father made me go to help Grandpa. I rode old "Billy,” the horse, bareback, guiding him and trying to keep him from nipping the corn and vines while Grandpa handled the plow or cultivator on foot behind. Other times I had to hoe potatoes, corn or prune the grape vines. Of course this was later when I was twelve or in my early teens.

 

I was brought up to work and had chores to do about the place as far back as I can remember. I can't say I was made to work but I was told what to do and I did it. At the age of eight I was doing the evening chores, getting the cow from the pasture, throwing the hay from the loft into the manger, fixing her feed, etc. I also feed and watered the horses and threw down their hay. When Father came home from the store for supper all he had to do was slip on his overalls and milk the cow. I even began milking the cow myself at the age of eight whenever Father went to Chicago to do the buying for his store. 

 

I can't say I did a very good job of it in those days. My hands were too small and my finger muscles so under-developed that I had to use both hands for each teat so I could only squeeze one at a time and then not too effectively.

By the time I was ten, however, I was milking regularly every night.  Father did the chores in the morning until I was about thirteen.

 



 MINI-QUIZ ANSWERS

 

1. According to John Gustafson's records, John van Nortwick told him that the Music Hall was built by William van Nortwick.  

 

2. Early maps of Batavia show a depot for the Fox River Valley R.R. located at Commercial Street (now Harrison St.) and First St.

 

3. The light was a signal to the police on patrol they were wanted at the Police Station. This was before the police cars had radio communications. This location was easily visible from the top of both east and west side hills on Wilson St. as well as throughout most of the business district.

 


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OOPS!

 

Joane (Clever) O'Conner caught me in an error in the November, 1988 issue when I said the "popcorn stand" had been in four locations.  

 

She said it should have been five since the stand stood on the west side of Clever's Tavern before it was on the east side.

 

 I checked with Neal Hendrickson, then owner, and he said she was correct.  

 

Then Paul Hendrickson provided me with the picture to the right showing it in that location.  

 

My thanks to all involved in putting the record straight!

 


SOME ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

 

In the series on neighborhood grocery stores written last year, mention was made of the frame structure which was moved to the corner of Houston St. and No. Harrison St. when the Anderson brothers built their new building at Batavia Ave. and Wilson St. in 1892.  

 

It had been called the "Swede Store" but I was uncertain if this meant it was still operated as a store or merely referred to its former use. In a story related by Mrs. C. P. Williams (Stella Anderson) about her father and her uncle, Oscar and John Anderson, she is quoted to have said: "The old frame building on Houston Street was used as a storehouse for flour.  

 

In those days people baked their own bread and people bought flour in fifty and hundred pound sacks.  It was a big day when a carload of Pillsbury Best Flour arrived at the Norwestern depot.  

 

Think of the hard work of hauling it from the tracks to the corner of Houston and Harrison streets."        

 

11-18-67


 

BATAVIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY MEMBERSHIP APPLICATION:  1989

DUES

 

Individual:                            $3
Joint/Family:                         $5
Sustaining:                           $10
Life (each):                           $50
Business or Institutional:        $10