Volume Thirty-One

No. 2


March 1990


Spring Meeting Arranged


Our Vice-President, Marilyn Robinson, has finalized plans for the spring meeting of the Society. I hope we will have a good turnout of members.  At a recent meeting of the Board it was suggested that members be encouraged to bring a friend or newcomer to Batavia to our meetings so that more people might become acquainted with the Society.


Date:               Sunday, April 29, 1990

Time:               3:00 p.m.

Place:              Bartholemew Room, Civic Center, 327 W. Wilson St.



Mary Ochsenschlager, a member of Land Preservation, will provide us a talk and slide presentation on land and prairie conservation. As the week of April 22-28 is designated as "Earth Week," this is a timely topic.




Following the presentation, the usual time for conversation with old friends and new acquaintances over coffee and cookies will be available.


A short business meeting will precede the program. Will some of the members assist Marilyn by providing cookies for the meeting? Everyone appreciates the delicious

homebaked donations that are brought. If you will help, give Marilyn Robinson at call at 879-2253.


More Wolcott Memories


In previous issues I have used excerpts from the book by Laurens and Kenneth Wolcott, LIFE IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS IN A SMALL ILLINOIS TOWN: 1872-1910.  


This issue's excerpt relates to the store their father ran.  It was located on Wilson St. just west of the river where the present Baskin-Robbins store is situated.




Father never conducted a "General Store": no clothing, dry goods, hardware or boots and shoes  But he did have, for that period, a good grocery and drug store, including "paints and oils". Most paints were then mixed on the job, using kegs of white lead, linseed oils and colors. Although he did carry some bulk candy, usually shipped in ten-quart wooden pails -- sold, when emptied, as a water pail for kitchen or barn use -- he never had a soda fountain or ice cream bar -- both very new-fangled innovations then. He did carry a limited line of perfumes and cosmetics as they existed then. But the major business was groceries.


As I look back now, I am astonished to realize how completely that business has changed in my lifetime. With very few exceptions -- baking powder, saleratus, corn starch, table salt (in ten-pound sack), etc. -- nothing in the store was pre-packaged.  


Flour, a very important and fast-selling item, came in so-called 25-pound, 50-pound and 100-pound sacks. Actually, they were ½-bbl., ¼-bbl. and 1/8-bbl, or 98-lbs., 49-lbs. and 24-lbs., respectively. Every family baked its own bread. There was a bakery in town, where "baker’s bread" could be bought, but their products were not carried by grocers nor very widely used. Father never carried any bread in stock as long as I knew anything about his store.  


In the later years, we would sometimes go to the bakery and buy a loaf or bread (for cash) to be delivered as an accommodation with our customer's grocery order. Incidentally, these cloth flour-sacks were prized by the women, making excellent dish towels, I am told.  


Occasionally a little girl from an "underprivileged" family would appear on the street in a home-made dress with "Pillsbury's Best" trade-mark in the middle on her back.  


Vinegar and molasses were delivered in customers' jugs, filled from barrels in the store basement. Usually only one type or cheese was carried, the big wheel or cracker-barrel type, cut to order. It was a matter or pride to be able to cut a wedge of cheese to within an ounce of the order. But if it ran an ounce or two over or under, we did not need a computer to figure the price, as cheese was nearly always 16 cents a pound.


Sugar came in barrels or about 300 pounds. We always had a barrel of each -- granulated, "C" sugar (light brown), brown and powdered. In later years more and more sugar was received in hundred-pound sacks, a cheap, white cotton sack inside a strong burlap sack. Granulated sugar thus received was usually dumped in the sugar barrel for convenience in scooping out for weighing individual orders.  


Even oatmeal came in bulk, in barrels. Packaged groceries began to appear soon after I began to work in the store -- but very gradually. One of the first such trademarked groceries was soda crackers, Uneeda Biscuit. Spices in small cans much like the present were a welcome change for both customer and grocer. It was an unpleasant task to weigh out an ounce of mustard or pepper and wrap it in a small paper bag. Patented, prepared breakfast cereals began next; first, cereals to compete with oatmeal, Pettijohns, Ralstons, Maltina, Wheatena, etc. Then followed the dry cereals, initiated by Shredded Wheat, then corn flakes, Grape Nuts, etc.


Commercial canned fruits had been available and carried in stock for some time, but sold in small volume. Nearly every family canned its own fruit, jellies and jams in summer and fall and ate them in winter. But, as the quality of the commercial tinned fruits improved, they became more popular and gradually displaced the dried fruits, prunes, apples, peaches and apricots, although all of these were carried, in bulk, and sold in diminishing volume.


While Father's store may not have been the largest or the best in town, it was a good store with a substantial volume of trade. I think Father devoted more time, care and effort to his fruits and vegetables than did any other grocer in Batavia. He obtained his more perishable items, like berries, locally when possible. After he had the Field at the rear of Grandpa's vineyard, our own gardens furnished many of our own vegetables during the season. As far as possible, these were fresh-picked the day of sale. Every Fall he would import a bulk carload of potatoes direct from a grower in Wisconsin.  


To minimize handling and storage costs, all regular customers were notified and urged to place their orders for their winter requirements. Ads were run in the local papers. Quantity orders, placed in advance and filled direct from the car, were quoted an attractive, low price. It was standard practice then for families to store their winter requirements of potatoes and other vegetables in their own cellars. Many more potatoes were eaten in those days than now, when the stores are filled with all sorts of fresh vegetables all winter, and when there are so many weight-watchers. The real small family would put in three to five bushels; the larger families ten to fifteen bushels. We were allowed three days to unload the freight car at the Newton Wagon Co. siding, right next door to our store.  


Whatever potatoes had not been delivered after two days of strenuous work had then to be sacked and carried in our delivery wagon, some to the outside basement of the store, the rest to the basement at our home for storage. They were usually extra fine, large, smooth potatoes and were quickly sold out, frequently outside our regular customers. A couple of times the demand exceeded the supply and a second carload was ordered. Later in the winter, the potatoes in our basement had to be sacked again and taken down to the store for current demand.  


In either basement, during the winter, they had to be carefully watched and "looked over", eliminating any starting to spoil and removing sprouts where found. In that same "cold-cellar" at home were the many bushels of mangel-wurtzel beets, also having to be "looked over" periodically, and cut up daily and fed to the cow, about a peck a day, cut into bite-sized pieces (cow-bite size). "The chunks must not be too large or the cow will choke to death." A large beet was cut in two lengthwise pieces every day or two and fed to the chickens, allowing them to peck out their own bite-sized pieces -- thank Heaven. 

Back to the store


In addition to potatoes, Father always had apples in stock during the winter. These apples usually came from Western New York, thru Chicago wholesalers, always packed in barrels, three bushels each. We generally had from three to six or more varieties in stock. Some of these varieties are still available for the people who still buy by name -- Baldwin, Northern Spy, Greening and Russet. Many which were popular then will sound unfamiliar to you: Maiden Blush, King, Grimes Golden, Pippin, Spitzenberg, Rome Beauty, Pound Sweet and others. The currently popular Mackintosh, Cortland and Delicious had not then been discovered or developed.


Most customers bought apples by the peck; Uncle Henry by the barrel. About the only other fruits available during the winter were oranges, lemons, cranberries and occasionally bananas, the latter always available in Chicago, but only occasionally in rural stores. For vegetables, there were only those of last summer's crop which would keep well: cabbage, turnips, carrots, squash, onions. Cold storage was barely in existence, not in popular use.  


It was sometimes possible to obtain exotic items like lettuce or tomatoes, greenhouse grown or imported from Florida or California in gourmet stores ("fancy groceries") in Chicago. Not only was the price prohibitive, they were very perishable, subject to freezing during delivery and spoiling within a few hours. Only few Batavia families would consider buying them at the "outrageous prices" if a local grocer had offered them. Lettuce (leaf type only; no solid head type was then known) from November to April rated about like avacodoes would today.


Father, in most respects decidedly conservative, was more venturesome in this field than most other grocers in town. He would occasionally bring back from Chicago small quantities of unusual fruits or vegetables.


I believe that he was the first in Batavia to offer the new-fangled grapefruit, tangerines, nectarines and other fancy, exotic fruits that most people in Batavia had never heard of, much less tasted. I remember watching him demonstrate "why the tangerine is called the kid glove orange" -- actually peeling one and separating the sections "without getting a drop of juice on my fingers".


Sharing the sections with his prospect, he would often get his order for a dozen. He never forgot that he was a druggist as well as a grocer, however. Most prescriptions he compounded himself, altho he had two registered "Asst. Pharmacists" on the staff most of the years that I was in the store.


The senior clerk was C. C. Stephens (Charlie), a rather crabby old Civil War veteran, with little sympathy or patience with a fussy customer, and much less with small boys. When he did try to be affable he had two stock jokes(?), used year after year. When someone remarked, "This is a fine day" Charlie would reply, "Yes, the best there is in town." His invariable response to an inquiry as to the freshness of the fruit or vegetables was, "Sure they are fresh. They have never been eat."


The other permanent employee was a pleasant, middle-aged man. Altho widely known about town and universally liked, a visitor would have had difficulty in finding him by asking for him by name: Rush E. Winslow. He was always known by young and old, all over town, as "Kerney” paper bag. I could continue to fill the page, but you get the idea.  


This should suffice to indicate the difference between it and the modern supermarket where the customer appears at the checkout counter with a cartload of items, packaged by the supplier and collected by the customer, now all safely and neatly packaged and visibly priced for quick check-out and payment.


Soon after starting o work for Father, Peter moved his large family into the last house on Water Street, immediately alongside our Field. While he was employed at and for the store, he took great interest in The Field, recommending some new varieties and introduced at the store a new line of garden seeds (Vick's of Rochester, a near neighbor of mine in later years here), helped plan and care for hot-beds, etc.


As you Batavia boys probably know, Peter eventually realized his life-long dream and established a fine market garden on West Main Street, subsequently -- and I presume still - operated by his son John. Several other children are likely still in the area. Peter was a remarkable man whom I have come to appreciate more in later years as I look back upon him.  


Born, brought up and educated (as far as it went) in Sweden, he was an intelligent, highly moral, sympathetic man. His most emphatic swear words were “Yumping Yimini”, or when greatly excited, “Yulius Yee Caesar”








The reference to Peter Gustafson's market garden in the above paragraph reminded me of this picture of their delivery truck from our files.



The story below was told to John Gustafson in 1967 and included in one of his many notebooks. This, too, was brought to mind by the story about dresses made from flour sacks. "Mrs. W. and Mrs. P. were arguing as Swedish women sometimes did, as to who was of a higher class.  Mrs. B. came along and stopped and listened to them arguing. She then remarked that Mrs. W. wasn't much. “Look at all the Geneva Belle flour sack underwear on her clothes line.”



The W. A. Wolcott Store





Test your memory concerning Batavia in 1940---fifty years ago.


1.  What schools belonged to the Little Seven Conference in 1940?


2.  What was the name of the local dramatic club sponsored by the American Legion?


3.  What radio program was sponsored by Campana Co. and who were its two regular "stars"?




The Society has received a copy of the letter Mark Twain wrote to his beloved, Livy, from Batavia on January 26, 1869.  


He was in town to give a lecture. The letter was given to us by the Bancroft Library at the University of California: Berkeley following a response to an inquiry from the library for information about Batavia at the time of the lecture.


As you will read in the following excerpts, Mark Twain was not duly impressed with Batavia.  He made two references to the town:


" . . . this sad-looking village makes me feel ever so friendless and dreary . . . "


"No matter how dreary & wretched I may feel when I enter one of these sad, homeless-looking towns, I soon retreat to the shelter of your love, my Livy, & all is bright & cheerful again."




I wish to thank all those who responded to the request in the January newsletter for remembrances of earlier days in Batavia. We received a number of letters and you will see portions of these from time to time in future editions. I would appreciate receiving more of these glimpses of Batavia in its earlier days for our files.  


Please jot them down and send them to me. Two other "pictures" of earlier times have been received in different formats. Reel-Pro Video has donated a video-tape which shows a Chicago, Aurora & Elgin train as it makes its run from the Junction into Batavia and back out again. This is part of a much longer film about the CA&E.


The second donation has been a series of cassette tapes from Bob Kalina. In these he describes his memories of a number of things: both crabbing and clamming in the Fox River, ice skating on the old pond, and the greenhouse business which was very extensive in Batavia at one time. If you don't feel like writing your memories, consider doing what Bob Kalina did. I will try to provide a tape recorder and tape so you can record your recollections. Give me a call at 879-7492 if you would like to do this.


Jim Hanson




1. The Little Seven had eight schools in 1940. The members of the conference were Batavia, Dundee, Geneva, Naperville,

    St. Charles, Sycamore, West Chicago and Wheaton.  Things have certainly changed!


2. The local dramatic group was known as the Town Hall Players.


3. The First Nighter was sponsored by Campana and starred Les Tremayne and Barbara Luddy as regulars.  

    See the following section for more on this topic.




Remember in 1940 when:


- drama was brought into homes by radio and not T.V. A favorite was the First Nighter sponsored by Batavia's Campana

  Corporation. The announcer spoke of "the little theater off Times Square" and at intermission the usher could be heard

  announcing, "Smoking in the outer lobby only, please." The program was in its 10th year in 1940. 


-  the annual American Legion Carnival was held in the Township Park on W. Wilson St. each summer on the site of the

   present McWayne School. It featured rides for the kids, refreshments, bingo, games of chance, etc. Later it was moved

   across Wilson St. to the property where the Civic Center is located. 


- drug stores all had soda fountains and served those good ice cream concoctions and soft drinks. There were stools at

  the counter or booths along a wall (or both) where you could sit and enjoy the refreshments. Some also had those little

  round "ice cream tables and chairs" that are now seen at antique shops. 


- boys delivered the popular magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal,

  etc. They carried the magazines in a cloth bag with a strap over the shoulder. This was a way to earn spending money. 


- the Chicago & Northwestern RR train ran down the middle of Water St. Traffic on Wilson and First streets was brought to 

   a stop several times a day by the slow-moving freight train. 

  Other than Routes 25 and 31, Main St. going west and Wilson St. going east, the roads outside of town were all gravel.  


- What is now Fabyan Parkway was Averill Rd. on the east side and Campana Rd. on the west side with no bridge connecting the two roads. 


- the local paper was the Batavia Herald, issued once a week on Fridays. The Aurora Beacon had a regular Batavia column

  written by Jeanette Smith which included a great deal of "social news" about people in town.





The Batavia Antique Dealers, who planned the highly successful Evening at the Old Louise White School as a benefit for the Society, are at it again. This benefit will be the Bernard J. Cigrand Antique Show, named in honor of Dr. Cigrand who was the "Father of Flag Day" and a Batavia resident.


It will take place on the weekend of June 16th and 17th at the Civic Center. This is the weekend closest to Flag Day, June 14th. The proceeds from ticket sales are designated to benefit the Batavia Historical Society.


Tickets will be available at the antique shops and the local banks.  


Watch for announcements in the papers as to when they will be on sale. We have been asked to assist by providing people to sell tickets at the door and to collect tickets. The hours will be from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 16th. and from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 17th.


Volunteers will be asked to work a two-hour shift.  


Hopefully we can have three people for each shift. Volunteers are needed! Please call Jim Hanson (879-7492) if you will help sell/collect tickets at the antique show. The response for volunteers at the Louise White program was great. 


I trust members will respond in the same manner this time. The dealers plan to make this an annual event in Batavia. Let's show our support and appreciation.



Our Depot Museum is open for the 1990 season. May Lundberg can always use more volunteer help. If you can donate two hours to act as a host or hostess each month or every other month, please call May at 879-3660 and offer to assist.


The Park District is undertaking extensive work at the Museum. A start has been made to prepare the basement area for a number of permanent exhibits. This will enlarge the display area greatly. The Gunzenhauser gazebo is undergoing rehabilitation and will be located on the Museum grounds when finished. The original Coffin Bank building, (Batavia's first bank) will be refurbished and located at the site also. Carla Hill, our curator, has told me contracts are to be let to have the exterior of the Museum repainted and the grounds will be upgraded to enhance the appearance of the entire area.  


New storage shelving and special protective boxes have been secured to better organize and preserve the artifacts that are donated to the Society. With all of this activity going on at the Museum, it may be somewhat disorganized, noisy, etc. from time to time.


The end result should make any temporary problems worth overlooking or learning to "live with" as we expand.



If you have not paid your 1990 dues yet, please remember to do so.  The response to the reminder in the last issue was fine but we still have a few members who have not renewed.  





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

Bus/Inst. Life    $100