Volume Thirty-One

No. 5


November 1990




The Annual Meeting of the Society will be the customary Holiday Pot Luck Dinner.  

Mark your calendars now so as not to miss the meeting.


Date & time:   Sunday, December 2, 1990 at 5:00 p.m.

Place:               Bethany Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall

Dinner:            Please bring a dish to pass and your own dishes and silverware. Meat, rolls and coffee will be furnished.




The Glory Road Singers will provide a musical program. As this is the Society's thirtieth birthday, we will be honoring our founders and charter members.  If you know one of these individuals who needs transportation to the meeting, please offer him/her a ride.  If you need a ride to the meeting, call Marilyn Robinson (879-2253) or Jim Hanson (879-7492) and we will find you a ride.  Volunteer chauffeurs call us also.

Meeting:          A short business meeting will precede the program.  Included will be the election of the following, each for a two year term: president, treasurer, recording secretary, and two directors. The following people are serving as the committee for the meeting:   Marilyn Robinson, Chairperson; Dot and Jim Hanson; Mary and Jerry Harris; Kathy and George Fairbairn; Dorothy Willey; Teri and Lyle Bergmann.  Anyone else who would like to help set up before the dinner or assist in the clean-up following it will be welcome!





Fifty years ago it wasn't the price of heating oil that was a concern as winter approached.  Instead it was that of coal. Then Batavia had 4 businesses advertising as coal dealers.  How many of them can you name?



Our vice-president, Marilyn Robinson, is writing a series of articles for the local newspaper on old homes in Batavia. There are ten buildings in town (not houses) which have the date of their construction on the front of the building.  You have gone by many of these buildings often, but have you consciously or sub-consciously noticed which buildings are so marked?  Try to remember which have their construction dates on them.



Now that you have answered question #2, can you match the correct date(s) with the buildings? The dates on these ten buildings are: 1870; 1887; 1889; 1889*; 1892; 1893; 1895; 1895; 1902-03; 1917. 

The 1889 on one is very indistinct but records indicate the contract for it was let that year.  This building also had its name included on its face by the stonemason.




Once again it is time to pay your Society dues to keep the newsletter coming.  All payments after Nov. 1st will be considered as payment for 1991.  The dues for our Society are among the lowest of any historical group around and are used to cover the cost of printing and mailing the newsletters and for meeting expenses. Prompt payment will be appreciated as it makes the recordkeeping for the treasurer and the updating of our mailing list much easier.  Remember that gift memberships are a nice way to say "thank you" to someone or to say "welcome to Batavia" to a newcomer.  Don't overlook a life membership for yourself so that you won't need to bother paying each year! Mail in your dues with the form below or pay the treasurer at our December meeting.





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

Bus/Inst. Life    $100

NAME(s) _____________________________________________  ADDRESS ____________________________________________ CITY ________________________ STATE _____ ZIP ________ Mail to:            Treasurer, Batavia Historical Society                        P.O. Box 14, Batavia, Illinois 60510



Marilyn Robinson


A state convention of teachers petitioned the Illinois legislature for a grant of funds for a normal school in 1856.

Throughout the state, newspapers announced that the school would go to the city offering the greatest inducement. Batavia was one of the many cities that was interested in securing the new university.  As its inducement, Batavia offered the Batavia Institute, which provided a ready-made plant and ample grounds, plus $15,000 in cash to become the site of the state normal school.  This was enough to allow the selection committee to make Batavia one of the three top finalists for the school. Other towns in Illinois aspired to be the home of the new school.  Residents of Bloomington bid $100,000 and 1.500 acres of land.  


When the contest narrowed to Batavia, Peoria, and Bloomington, residents of the latter town, led by Jesse Fell, increased their bid from $100,000 to $145,725 only to learn that their original bid had topped the next highest by $20,000.  They also had offered the 1.500 acres of land.  On February 18, 1847, Gov. William H. Bissell signed the bill creating Illinois State Normal University at Normal. Imagine what Batavia would have been like today if it had been chosen the site of the new school.  All of the historic homes in the Bellevue area would be gone.  The town would have likely remained "dry" until the 1970's.  I can only speculate on how my own life would have been changed if I had been a graduate of Illinois State Normal University: Batavia instead of Illinois State Normal University: Normal. (Information taken from JOURNAL OF THE ILLINOIS STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY, Summer, 1957 and NORMAL UNIVERSITY CENTENNIAL by Helen E. Marshall and recorded notes by John Gustafson.)




Carole Dunn responded to my plea for a coordinator to work with the antique dealers on the 1991 Cigrand Antique Show.  The show will be held June 8th and 9th and will be a benefit for our Society.  Carole will need a large number of volunteers to help sell and collect tickets, man a booth for the Society, put up signs, etc.  Mark your 1991 calendar now and be ready to lend a hand for a couple of hours that weekend.





In 1940 Batavia's coal dealers included Alexander Lumber Co. located just west of the Depot Museum where Land O Lorin Pet Shop occupies one of the former buildings; Batavia Fuel Co. that was in the area along the CB&Q tracks where the White Hen Pantry shopping strip on E. Wilson St. is located today; Harold Plummer whose business was situated where Weigand Lumber Co. has its business on E. Wilson St.; and Thorsen Lumber Co. (previously Kahlke & Thorsen) which was on Main St. directly across from where S. Harrison St. dead-ends into Main St.


2. & 3. The ten buildings with construction dates are:



Anderson Block, later known as Crane's or Crane & Swan, located on the northeast corner of Wilson and River streets, was built in 1870.  The limestone is wearing away and the date is difficult to read.



The Methodist Church on N. Batavia Ave. was built in 1887 and is easily read above the doorway.



The former McKee St. Methodist Church on the corner of McKee and Lincoln streets has its name and date carved in the stone below the window on the front.  You will note this is written in Swedish. Date: 1889.



The indistinct date of 1889 is just above the door on the old City Hall on S. Shumway (formerly Island Ave.) at the foot of First St.  A contract was let in August of 1889 to James F. McMaster to construct a city hall and dynamo building (for the recently approved electric plant) "for $4,018 and foundation walls for $12.50 per cord." e)                  The Anderson Bros. block on the northeast corner of Batavia Ave. and Wilson St. was built in 1892 and the name and date are clearly read at the front roof-line.



The old Louise White School on N. Washington Ave. has its date of 1893 and its use, "Public School," in the triangular "dormer" facing Washington Ave.



 What was once called the Collins Block on S. Batavia Ave. was built in 1895 with the date clearly seen just below the roofline.  This is the second building north of Main St. on the west side of the avenue.



The other 1895 building is the Walt Block situated on the north side of Wilson St. just east of the Fox River.  The owner's name is also included on this one: "H. Walt."



 A small metal plaque at the peak of the roof of the limestone building on the southeast corner of First St. and Water St., once part of the U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Co., states it was built in 1902-03.



Clearly read in the concrete on the former tire station next to the old city hall on Shumway (Island) Ave. is the date 1917.




Early in October, Dot and I had an opportunity to visit the Holland Land Office Museum in Batavia, New York.  Unfortunately, we arrived 10 minutes before closing time.  When the gracious volunteer, Ellen Ruffino, found out we were from Batavia, she allowed us to stay long beyond closing time.  The museum is much larger than ours and its collection involves all of Genesee County.  It is in an 1815 historic building and is well worth a visit if you are in the vicinity. Mrs. Ruffino sent a packet of materials about Batavia, NY to me.  She related a story told to her about the early Batavians of the Netherlands.  


According to this story, the Roman Claudius rounded up the tribe of Batavians (the Batavi that James Michener called “those fierce, sullen men encountered by the early Roman emperors”) to use in his efforts to conquer England because they were such excellent swimmers. Upon returning to Batavia, I learned that our historian, Bill Wood, had visited the same museum about a week before we did.  He met its new director who shared with Bill correspondence from the Netherlands concerning the reconstruction of a 1628 Dutch ship that was underway.  The name of the ship was Batavia and the original vessel sank off Australia on a trip to what was then the Dutch East Indies.  Bill presented the director, Jeff Bliemeister, a copy of the Gustafson-Schielke book, HISTORIC BATAVIA, and I sent a copy of Marilyn Robinson's LITTLE TOWN IN A BIG WOODS.




Batavia, Illinois was given its name by Judge Isaac Wilson.  He had come here from Batavia, New York in 1835 and named the new settlement after his former hometown.  The following information about Judge Wilson is taken from the record kept by the Joint Committee on Printing of the U.S. Congress: "Isaac Wilson, a Representative from New York; born in Middlebury, Vt., June 25, 1780; served in the War of 1812 as Capt. of Cavalry; moved to Genesee County, N.Y.; member of the state Assembly in 1818-1821; presented credentials as a Member elect to the 18th Congress, and served from March 4, 1823 to January 7, 1824, when he was succeeded by Barmento Adams, who contested his election; judge of the Genesee County Court for several years; moved to Batavia, Ill. in 1835, where he died Oct. 25, 1848, interment in East Batavia Cemetery." (The above information comes from an article in the Batavia Herald of Sept. 1, 1933.)




The U.S. Postal Service is about to decide on a location for a new post office for Batavia.  When built, it will be the eighth or ninth location at which Batavia has had a post office in the 150 years since our first one opened February 2, 1841.  During that period of time at least 25 individuals have served as regular or acting postmasters. Our first postmaster was Isaac Wilson, the topic of the previous article. Although we cannot be certain where the post office was located at this time, it probably was in his home.  The house still stands at the southeast corner of Wilson and Prairie streets.  A John Waldron served next from 1846 to 1853 and he, too, may have operated from his home.  That location is not known. Next in line was Amos M. Moore.  


Sometime during his eight years in office, probably immediately, the post office was moved into the Moore & Buck store which was on the southwest corner of Batavia Ave. and First St.  One source indicates a Marvin Houck held the office for several months in 1855 between two terms of Mr. Moore's. E. S. Smith was appointed postmaster in 1861 and served for twenty-five years---longer than any other of Batavia's postmasters.  While he was in office, the post office was moved twice.  The first time it moved into a small building along Batavia Ave. between the present Gammon Corners and the Congregational Church.  Later it moved to Wilson St. to a small frame building that stood on the present site of Swanson's Hardware. In 1886 Willis Grimes took over, and the following year the post office was moved one door east into a larger building.  At that time four buildings faced Wilson St. in the area where the present post office and Swanson Hardware now stand.  


James McMaster was the next postmaster, serving from 1890 to 1893, at which time Mr. Grimes again took over.  During his second term, the post office again moved east and occupied one of the "storefronts" in the new Van Nortwick Block which extended along the south side of Wilson St. from Island Ave. to the Fox River. Batavia's newest restaurant, the New China Inn, just opened in this location. Rev. Andrew Challman of Bethany Lutheran Church took over the post office when a throat infection made him give up his ministry in 1897 and served until his death in 1900.  Charles Briggs took over temporarily until the appointment of C. H. Brown.  Mr. Brown served eleven years and was succeeded in 1911 by Frank Hooker, who in turn was succeeded in 1913 by John Geiss.  He was postmaster for ten years.  Lloyd Wood then administered the office from 1923 to 1926.




Batavia Post Office in 1918 when located at 6 W. Wilson Street.
Postmaster John Geiss is seated at the desk.




Batavia Post Office staff in 1912-13.
L to R: William Welsh, J. Arthur Anderson, Walter Swanson
and Postmaster Frank J. Hooker.



In 1926 William Davis was in charge for six months after which Carl Ekman was made "acting postmaster."  The following year he was given a regular appointment.  Up until this time Batavia's post offices all had been in rented facilities.  In 1928 the federal government built the present post office for $77,353. Since that time, eleven people have held the position of postmaster or acting postmaster. 


 These include (with approximate dates of appointment): Jacob Feldman (1935); Leon Comstock (1951-acting); Paul Hendrickson (1951-acting); Augie Mier (1952); Richard Markuson (1960-acting); Phil Talbot (1962); Mary Clemons (1985-acting); Mable Bowker (1985-acting); Wayne Duerkes (1985); George Gordon (1987-acting); and Julie Sabor (1988). Before 1899 it was necessary to pick up mail at the post office.  On June 1st of that year city home delivery began.  This had been anticipated for a number of years but inadequate appropriations had delayed the start of delivery service.  


Three years earlier Postmaster Grimes had notified citizens to secure a mailbox to be ready for delivery.  "Authorized agents" were to call on people and would sell a cast iron letter box and install it for $1.50.  Delivery also necessitated the numbering of all houses---something we take for granted today.




Do you remember these Post Office employees of 1935? Try to name them before looking at the list below.


Front row:



            Second row:      


            Third row:   

Dutch Leipold William Davis, Asst. P.M. Carl J. Ekman, P.M. Berger Stenman  


Neal Conde Rich Markuson William Welsh Dave Challman Axel Ecklund  


Charles Pierce Walter Wood F.G. "Stork" McDermott Richard Benson Ray Larson Ray Nielson  


If there are any errors in this listing which comes from the back of the Museum's copy of the picture, please let me know so the correction can be made.

(Information for the article about Batavia's post offices and postmasters secured from a manuscript of John Gustafson's, recollections of Frank Smith and of A. E. Davis, BATAVIA: 1833-1983 by Roberta Campbell, Julie Sabor, postmaster; and articles in 1928 and 1933 issues of the Batavia Herald.)



Five offices in the Society are to be filled at the December meeting.  All terms are two years.  Dave Sawitoski has agreed to chair the nominating committee.  Positions to be filled, with incumbents in parentheses, are:  President (Dot & Jim Hanson); Recording Secretary (May Lundberg); Treasurer (Elliott Lundberg); and two Directors (Ray Anderson & Ed LaMorte).  May Lundberg, who has kept excellent minutes for the past seven years, has requested that she not be slated again.  


She will continue to serve as the Museum Volunteer Coordinator.  Ed LaMorte, who has been both a Director and the House Plaquing Coordinator for many years, has also asked not to be related. Suggestions and/or volunteers for any of the five positions are welcomed.  Give the names to either Dave Sawitoski (879-1193) or Jim Hanson (879-7492) within the next ten days for consideration by the committee.