Volume Thirty-Two

No. 4

July 1991


A “members only" preview of the new exhibits in the lower level of the Depot Museum will be held Sunday, August 4, 1991.  This first look at the exciting addition to the public displays will be the program for our summer meeting. A variety of displays related to Batavia's growth are depicted. Included are scenes and artifacts covering Indians, Payne's cabin, immigration, the stone quarries and windmill factories, and the Newton Wagon Co. including one of our Newton wagons. In addition, displays featuring many of the photographs of early Batavia from our collection make it possible for the first time to see these pictures. You, as a member, are invited to visit the Depot Museum between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, August 4th. The Board is pleased to be able to give you this special opportunity to see our expanded display prior to the official dedication and public viewing. Punch and cookies will be served.


Due to the time and location of the program, it is necessary to hold the business portion of the summer meeting separate from the program. The official business meeting will be held at the Civic Center, 327 W. Wilson St., at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, August 4, 1991. The only items on the agenda at this time are approval of the minutes of the meeting of April 28, 1991 and the Treasurer's report.


During the past several years a number of Batavia businesses experienced serious fires. Downtown the Kane Co. Insurance Co. and Valley Upholstery building was destroyed as was the office of the Chamber of Commerce. In addition, Batavia Foundry and Machine Company's building at Mallory and First streets burned. A less serious fire occurred this spring when part of the old Challenge plant was destroyed.

Below are the dates of eight fires in or adjacent to Batavia which were major fires.  Can you name the business or building(s) involved?

March 10, 1872

Dec. 23, 1872

Nov. 14, 1900

Jan. 10,1893

Feb. 1, 1913

April 16, 1934

July 17, 1953

August 13, 1961  

Jane Elwood

When I see the modern fire equipment in Batavia today, I think back to my childhood when things were much different.  
One of the hose carts of the city fire department was kept in a little shed across the street in back of the old Church School.  This cart was made up of two large wheels with a reel between them on which the hose was wound.  In front was a long tongue.

When the fire whistle blew the volunteer firemen rushed to the shed and dragged out the hose cart, hitched a horse, or maybe it was two, and away they would go out to First street and on to the fire.  Later, when Bob Guy had an automobile, one of the first ones in Batavia, he would back up to the shed and the hose cart would be hitched to the car and away he would drive.  I don't recall how the firemen got to the fire.  

They may have had a horse and wagon of some kind. In those days a fire in Batavia was almost a social event.  Day or night everyone who was able and curious went to the fire either to help or hinder.  One was sure to see friends or casual acquaintances there.  At night it was especially interesting to see how spectators were dressed, as one had to dress hurriedly to get to the fire. Back then, we had a general idea of the location of a fire because the whistle blew a long, extremely loud, shrill blast, then shorter ones to indicate the ward in which the fire was located.

Two fires I especially remember as a child of six or seven years old were the fire in the cupola of the Central School (the old Grace McWayne School) and the fire at the K.P. Building on So. Batavia Avenue. I was in second grade, attending the old Church School (the present Buttrey-Wulff-Mamminga Agency) when the cupola burned. My teacher, Edith Dickenson, looked worried and frequently looked out the window, but she said nothing to disturb us.  I kept thinking that the day was very long and wondered when we would be dismissed.  It wasn't until the fire was out and the students allowed to go back in the building to get their wraps that the first and second graders were allowed to go home.  In this way we were kept safe and out of the way of the crowds. The other fire, the K.P. Building, affected our family.  

I believe this was the same year as the school fire but on a cold winter night.  As it was in the middle of the night, no one in our family paid any attention to the fire whistle.  We were startled by my aunt bursting in the house screaming, "Henry, wake up! Your place is on fire.”  I thought she meant our house and I was terrified.  It was my father's tailor shop located in the K.P. Building.  He lost everything except a thimble and a bodkin he happened to have in his pocket.
It was a terrible blow to him and meant he had to work for someone else instead of having his own shop.  The building was completely gutted with only the walls left standing. Later the building was restored but suffered another fire years later, but that is another story which someone else can tell.  How grateful we are now for our efficient, modern equipment and our dedicated, brave firemen. (Note: See the picture on the next page which shows the Knights of Pythias (K.P.) bldg. following the fire that so seriously affected Jane Tincknell Elwood's family.)


The expansion of exhibits to include the lower level of the Depot Museum creates a need for more volunteers to serve both as guides and to provide more security for our displays.  Your Board of Directors believes that the museum should be staffed by two people at all times. The museum is open from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. each day except Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Volunteers serve as hosts/hostesses for a two hour stint no more than once a month.  If you are not on the list of volunteers, please consider becoming one.  Call May or Sadie Lundberg at 879-3660 and let them know what day(s) you can help.

The Knights of Pythias Building following the fire February 1, 1913.

March 10, 1872:

Both the Challenge Mills and nearby Batavia Mills burned down.  The Challenge was insured for $20,000 of its $45,000 loss but received only $150 as the insurance companies were unable to pay claims due to their heavy losses in the Chicago fire of the previous year.  Nevertheless, the Challenge rebuilt.  The Batavia Mills, owned by McKee & Moss, was not rebuilt.


Dec. 23, 1872:

A major part of the Newton Wagon Co. was destroyed with a loss of $40,000 which, like that of the Challenge Co., was all lost as the insurance companies could not pay the claims.  This was the Newton's second major loss by fire.  In 1854 Mr. Newton's wagon factory in New York had burned (also with insurance companies not paying claims) and as a result of that earlier fire he moved to Batavia.  Temperature was 20 below!


Nov. 14, 1900

The Appleton Manufacturing Co., located north of Batavia where the Campana building stands today, burned with a loss estimated at $150,000, of which only $57,000 was covered by insurance.  Immediately after the fire the Batavia Businessmen's Assn. spearheaded a drive to convince the VanNortwicks to relocate in Batavia.  The new Appleton factory consisted of our present Municipal building and the other stone buildings scheduled to be torn down shortly. Batavians and Genevans helped save the office fixtures, papers and books during the fire.


Jan. 10, 1893:

The Louise White School burned.  The school district collected all of its $9500 insurance, passed a bond issue, and had a "new" Louise White School open by Jan. 1894.  As there were no city water mains at that time, water had to be pumped from wells or the river.  The Newton Wagon Co.'s pumps on the island were used and hoses ran up the hill to fight the fire, but this took so long to accomplish that it didn't prove successful.


Feb. 1, 1913: The Knights of Pythias (K.P.) building on So. Batavia Ave. was destroyed along with the home of Henry Wenberg next door.  The fire broke out at 1:30 a.m.  The temperature that night stood at four degrees below zero.  In the building along with the lodge's rooms were Henry Tincknell, tailor (as related in Jane Elwood's article), Claus Lund's billiard hall, and A.E. Davis' second-hand store. Other than the lodge and Mr. Wenberg, who had some insurance, the others lost all.  The K.P Hall was rebuilt, but the building was torn down to make way for the Gary-Wheaton Bank drive-in.

April 16, 1934:

At 3:40 p.m. the fire department was notified that the Kahlke Lumber & Coal Co. was on fire.  Along with the lumber yard, one neighboring house was destroyed and another badly damaged.  Eight others had varying degrees of damage and numerous roofs were slightly damaged from flying sparks.  Aurora, Elgin, Geneva and Mooseheart fire departments assisted in fighting the blaze.  The buildings were a total loss and about $9000 of the $12,000 value of the contents were destroyed.  Insurance covered about $8,000.


July 17, 1953:

A call to the fire department at 11:20 a.m. reported fire in the pattern shed of Lindgren Foundry.  The building and its contents were lost, valued at $431,000 according to city records.  Geneva, West Chicago and St. Charles departments helped fight the fire.  This fire and that of the Kahlke Lumber Co. were located in the same general area between Main and First streets on what then was the west edge of town.  In the same area the previously mentioned fire at the Batavia Foundry & Machine Co. occurred in 1986.


August 13, 1961:

This fire differed from all of the others in that it was planned and set by the fire department.  Some of the buildings in the former U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co. factory that were to be demolished to build the Batavia Plaza Shopping Center were burned as a training exercise for a number of local fire departments.  In addition to Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles, West Chicago, No. Aurora, Marywood, Elburn and Moecherville departments took part in the controlled burning of the buildings.


Fortunately, no lives were lost in any of these major fires!!!




Joe Burton


It has long been a conviction of mine that Batavia has the most amazing collection of nicknames in the area. Sure, there were the usual collection of Bobs, Joes, Jims, Chucks and Bills, but Batavia went far beyond the usual to create nicknames that were unusual to say the least.

Elliott Lundberg has for years been compiling a list of over 150 names that were in popular use.  The range from a description of the person such as "Skinny Reynolds" and "Fat Freedlund" and "Buffalo Bill" (Dr. O.W. Hubbard who wore a wide-brimmed hat and had a handlebar mustache) to names that connected the person with what he did for a living ... "Steamboat Carl" Gustafson who sold tickets to the Fox River steamboat … Adolph "Tinner" Johnson who was a tinner by trade … "Furniture Charley" Johnson who was a member of the Hubbard & Johnson store ... Eddie "Weiner Skinner" Johnson who was a butcher on Harrison Street … "Painter John" Anderson and finally "Umpa" Thelander who played bass in a band.


Then there are the nicknames that seem to have no reason for being.  For example, how did Arnold Benson, who was a State Senator and a bank president, get to be called "Big Six"?  Or, Atty. Emil Benson, who was Arnold's brother, come to answer to the name "Wick"?  And how about Arthur Swanson of Swanson Hardware who was called "Drotz" and his brother Harry who was known as "Byz"?


There was Leonard Benson who was called "Eekie".  And Laurnes Wolcott who answered to "Tinker".  Plus Glen Anderson who was known as "Smash", Earle Ward as "Moore", and Carl Carlson called "Gent".  Finally, Batavia's famous athlete, Carl "Pinoke" Johnson. How did these names come to be?


As for girls, when I was in Grace McWayne School, I don't recall any unusual names.  The Youngquist twins were always Edna and Evelyn.  Dorothy Vilven was Just Dorothy.  Eleanor Newlin was simply Eleanor.  And Marie Larsen and Venice Harleen were always just that: Marie and Venice.  Only Elizabeth "Lizzy" Hill escaped the usual.


Speaking of schools, Dr. H.C. Storm was Superintendent of Schools.  All of our grade school teachers were lovely, soft-spoken ladies.  Occasionally Dr. Storm would come and visit classes; and although he was a fine superintendent, he had a very gruff and formidable manner.  I don't ever recall him smiling.  The children always politely addressed him as "Dr. Storm", but in his absence he was referred to as "Hurricane Cyclone".  Only recently did I learn that the "H" stood for Howard and the "C" was for Charles.


What's my favorite nickname of all? It has to be one from Elliott Lundbert's collection:  "Sven in a Box".  Explanation:  He came to the United States from Sweden in a box in order to save fare.  Think about that for a while!


I am most grateful for the assistance of Jane Elwood and Joe Burton in providing interesting articles for the newsletter. Hopefully, help by these and others will continue as the response to such reminiscences has been "let's have more!"


Jim Hanson  


In spite of a slow economy, the Second Annual Cigrand Antique Show was successful. More dealers participated and the attendance was greater than last year.  As these shows are organized by our local antique dealers and the ticket proceeds benefit the Society, please remember to thank the dealers when you are in their shops.


Additional thanks goes to Carole Dunn who coordinated the volunteers, making certain advertising signs were in place and both the ticket booth and the Society's booth were manned. Those who assisted were: Ray Anderson, Lil & Bob Brown, Agnes Clever, Ellen Diehl-Beddle, Mary Harris, Dot & Jim Hanson, Shirley Hoover, Rosalie & Richard Jones, Georgene & Walter Kauth, Norma & Elliott Lundberg, Harold Patterson, Pearl Pedersen, Marilyn & Bob Phelps, Marlene & Sam Rotolo, Barb & Dave Sawitoski, Don Schielke, Linda & Jeff Schielke, Elsie Renaud, Wilma & Ted Schuster, Jackie Upham, and Patty Will. Everyone's assistance is greatly appreciated!