Volume Forty

No. 3 


July, 1999



A Walk Around Batavia in 1875

By Frank P. Smith in 1948

Edited and Condensed by Marilyn Robinson


The following is excerpted from articles in The Batavia Herald in 1948, written by Frank P. Smith. Frank was born in 1870 in a "show place" on the southeast corner of Batavia Avenue and Houston Street (Picture 1), which was built by his father, a banker and a Batavia postmaster. His mother held him in her arms in the backyard while she watched the smoke from the great Chicago fire in 1871.


The home was later moved to 231 North Jackson Street to make room for Avenue Motors. According to John Gustafson, Frank ran a laundry in DeKalb and then in Batavia, then founded the Mooseheart Laundry, and eventually was laundry supervisor for the State of Illinois. Words in parentheses tell what now occupies the places about which Mr. Smith wrote.




When I was five years old in 1875, I would sneak out of the house and wander over to Jim Burton's barn in the rear of our premises when I heard Jim feeding his horses. He would put me on the oats box, finish dressing me, and I would go down to Mother Burton's (now behind Olmstead's storefront ) and have breakfast with him.




There was a stairway at the east end of one of the Newton Wagon Company buildings on Wilson Street which led to a basement barbershop run by a colored man named Jackson, who also had bathrooms to accommodate people wanting Saturday night baths.


Across from Newton, about 20 to 30 feet south of Wilson Street, were two wooden buildings. One was a shoe repair shop, and the other was a watch repair shop. To get to these stores, one had to walk on high wooden sidewalks, built on stilts. Starting with the post office building on the pond bank (now Swanson Hardware), the next building to the east was the combination grocery and candy store of F. K. George.


Then came the Ben Kindblade property, which housed his home and business on the corner of Wilson and Island (Shumway) Avenue. The front entrance was on Wilson Street with a side door and back gate on Island Avenue. Kindblade was a cabinet maker who learned his trade in his native Sweden. He made bows, arrows, and violins and later invented a roller skate. His property ran south on Island Avenue a hundred feet or more.


Then there was an alley back of his and the George store to the pond. On the south side of the alley and the edge of the pond (Swanson parking lot) was the city jail, a one-story stone building which consisted of three cells. Above the cells was a loft where tramps used to roost, preferring it to the cells.


Next was a wooden building owned by the VanNortwicks that housed the fire engine and hose cart, which were drawn and worked by hand. Across First Street south was the Coger grist mill. South of the mill was Benjamin Danforth's machine shop, and south of that the C.W. Shumway Foundry, run by water power.


Farmers who raised sheep would drive them to the west bank of the Fox River where the (old) city hall now stands (First and Shumway) and wash them in the river before shearing. Directly across the pond west from the post office was the United States Wind Engine & Pump Company and the D.R. Sperry Foundry (an area now comprising the Batavia Shopping Plaza).


On the southeast corner of First and Water Streets was the VanNortwick Paper Mill. The VanNortwick estate occupied the entire block bounded by Batavia Avenue and Water, Wilson, and First Streets. The small house on the northeast corner was occupied by the family of George Harvey, a son-in-law of John VanNortwick.






On top of the hill was John's stone home, which was later the Home Economics Building of the high school. Fronting First Street was the frame home of William VanNortwick, oldest son of John. Later this was replaced by a beautiful stone building which was the family home for many years. It was wrecked, and the site added to the high school property. North of the North Western Depot (present site of the Pinnacle Bank) on Water Street was a sharp decline to the river level.


Up against the east bank of the switch track were the coal sheds of J.S. Harvey. The location made it possible to dump coal from cars directly into the sheds. There was a roadway from Water Street curving to the river level some 20 feet below. The U.S.W.E. & Pump Company had a barn there to shelter factory horses. There was a line of willows 8 or 10 feet from the water's edge that extended north some 10 feet. South of the willows was a cove where there were three or four boathouses. Back from the edge of the cove was a spring used by families living near the river.


On the east side of Water Street was the lumber office of Huggett and O'Connor. North of the lumber yards were the stock yards where stock was loaded to be shipped to Chicago. It was not unusual to see flocks of sheep or droves of hogs or herds of cattle being driven from the Newton Wagon scales to the stock yards. North of the stock yards was the engine house which housed the engine of the Chicago and North Western Railroad. At the time, the railroad extended south only to the Barker quarry (foot of Union Avenue). That engine did all the switching and carried all the freight and passengers to the main line in Geneva.






I can remember but two houses on the west side of north Water Street south of Collins Quarry. The south one was occupied by the Sagle family. Mr. Sagle was the engineer on the railroad. My first ride on a railroad was in the engine's cab with Mr. Sagle when I was about six. I was surprised when we reached Geneva, as I thought we were moving sideways. South of the Sagle house a big building which was used to store icecutting machinery. South of that was a building where Hiram Doty and Charlie Norris manufactured wooden pumps.


Across Houston Street for 90 feet south was the back end of my father's lot; then came the Johnson house. Mr. Johnson was killed when he was run over by an engine while he was building a stone wall to protect his property from the railroad.


Next was vacant property where later on Benjamin Kindblade built a skating rink reached by a long wooden sidewalk from Wilson Street. The rink was later used as a paint shop by the U.S.W.E. & Pump Company.


At the present site of the Anderson Block was a one-story wooden building. There were wide wooden steps that led from Wilson to the Avenue level and two wooden steps into the Avenue store. The basement, opening on Wilson Street was the meat market of Jim Burton. On the main floor, Mr Nelson ran a grocery and dry goods store. The front was protected by an old-fashioned wooden awning.


Just north of the Nelson store was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Lyons. The home was later moved to make way for a meat market operated by Amos Burton. That, too, was moved and the First Methodist Church was erected on the site. North of the Lyons' was the Catho­lic Church (later incorporated in what is now Hubbard's) - a long frame house built close to my father's lot line. Then came my father's place, edged by a picket fence. My father was a Republican leader. During political rallies, the house was lighted from top to bottom with candles in every window and draped with col­ored paper. Campaigns of those days were spectacular and enthusiastic, with torch-light parades, marching units, flambeaus, etc. There were usu­ally train loads of marching clubs and bands from Aurora, Elgin, and other places that helped swell the crowds. The Swedish American Club was led by John Micholson. He gave his com­mands in Swedish, and we kids fell in. 


The next building on the east side of North Batavia Avenue was at McKee Street where the Northams lived. Their yard looked like a park, with evergreens trimmed in fancy shapes. Johnny Lee raised his winter potatoes in the space between our house and his. Lee's house (230 N. Batavia Avenue) was made of stone, and beyond his was the home of Daniel Collins, who ran the stone quarry just east of his house. There was nothing north of the Collins home except pasture land with the exception of a framed tenant house. At the bottom of the hill on the river bank was a big ice house.






It stood between the railroad tracks and the river, directly east of the Fox River Sanitarium (Michealsen Health Cen­ter). In those days there were thou­sands of cars of ice shipped out of Batavia each year. There were hun­dreds of men employed during the winter harvest, cutting and storing ice in two big ice houses. 






Across the street, north of the McKee house (345 N. Batavia Avenue) were the homes of Josiah and Joseph Towne. Their property ran from the river west. Next to the river was a big grove of hickory nut trees, the picnic ground of young folks. The Townes were very genial hosts; and some time during the picnic, they would bring down a milk can of lem­onade as their donation.


From the McKee house to Illinois Street was McKee's pasture. A great many west-side residents pastured their cows here. Ball games were played in the pasture. Between the McKee house and McKee Street, there were but three houses. One was occupied by the family of Doc McAllister, an em­ployee of the VanNortwick Paper Company; another by D.W. Starkey, who ran a bakery on Wilson Street; and the third by Earl Newton. Newton was the first man to invent cow stanchions in these parts.


On the north side of McKee Street was a long one-story building made into two apartments which had once been a factory building. The next home was D.W. Sterling's on the northwest corner of McKee and Washington (now Lincoln) Streets. The north end of Sterling's lot was the end of Wash­ington Street. The house west of the Sterlings' belonged to the Sheets fam­ily at the end of Jackson Street. Around their property was a row of hard maple trees, which were tapped for sap. Across McKee Street was the home of Pet James, a butcher.


The next building east was the Methodist parsonage (now the Russell Nelson home). There were only three other residences between Washington and Batavia Avenue. James Derby's home was on the southwest corner of Houston Street and Batavia Avenue (now Batavia Amoco). It had a large orchard in the rear. Next south was the D.C. Newton home (Picture 6). The Levi Newton red brick house blocked Wilson Street and in later years was torn down to open the street. South of Levi's house was quite a depression in the land. In this hollow stood the home of Mr. Clapp and his two sons, expert woodwork­ers. The Clapp house was moved to the corner of Union Avenue and Wa­ter Street, and E.H. Gammon built his home in the space (now called "Gammon Corners"). (To be continued in next issue).

The Batavia Historian, recipient of the Illinois State Historical Society's 1997 Award for Superior Achievement, is published

quarterly by the Batavia Historical Society. The editor, Bill Hall, will welcome any suggestions or material -- 630-8792033.

The Depot Museum, a cooperative effort of the Society and the Batavia Park District, is open from 2 to 4 p.m., Monday,

Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from March through November. The director, Carla Hill, can be reached at 630879-5235.


Gorings-on at the Fair

by Helen Bartelt Anderson


Our most popular issues are those that include stories by Helen Anderson, who grew up on a farm in Batavia Township in the early years of this century. Written with the wonderment of a child, Helen's recollections of the Central States Fair, held in nearby North Aurora in the 1920s, will bring the event alive for readers young and old.


County, state and world fairs have been around for more years than any of us can remember. As a very young child, I seem to remember a Kane County Fair that was held at the County Farm and Home on Averill Road, now Fabyan Parkway.


I seem to remember Mama baking this beau­tiful three-layer cake in the oven of her big cook stove. She tested the tem­perature of the oven by feeling the heat with her hand. Maybe she had to add another stick of wood or close the damper to regulate the heat. Did Gypsy, pulling the light buggy, take Mama and me and the three-layer cake to the Fair? Mama's cake did not win a blue rib­bon, but it did win a lovely silver berry spoon, which I still have and use.


I would really like to hear from anyone who remembers if there really was such a fair, or was I dreaming? County fairs were lots of fun and work for farmers, right in the midst of harvest season -- a time for towns­ - people and farmers to get together and enjoy a break from everyday hard work.


It was also a time for farmers to challenge one another in producing the finest crops and farm animals, with prizes to the best.






Little did we know four decades ago that, within a very few years, plans would be in the making for a huge Central States Fair in North Aurora, so close to Batavia. Len Small was governor of Illinois at that time. A Fair Committee was appointed. Land was purchased from two brothers, whose name was Siaker. The brothers owned adjoining farms, which the state needed to construct this very large fairground. (Betty Tuftee, daughter of Joseph Siaker, told me the name Siaker was originally Ochsenschlager, a well-known German family from Aurora.)


Frank Thelin, a member of the Fair Commission, must have con­vinced the Siaker family that their farms were the best and only possible place for the fairground to be built. The fair facilities took a year to build. Like today, delays were caused by weather and difficulty in getting ma­terials. The man who was hired as general contractor was a no-nonsense kind of guy.


As the time of the fair opening drew closer and closer, pres­sure and frustration mounted. There was still much work to be done, espe­cially on the one-mile race track. The mean contractor beat his horses un­mercifully, and three died. The track was finished off at one-half mile, not to be completed until the following year.


In 1922 when the fair opened, the United States was still recovering from the effects of World War I. Service men were back home and ready to have a rip-roaring good time. The large mid­way and amusement park provided them with lots of fun things to do, as long as their money lasted and their best girls were at their sides, hugging stuffed animals and Kewpie dolls.


At the amusement park, there were the usual rides and side­shows. Most of this was new to farm kids, like me. I had several merry-go-round rides during the fair but was afraid to go on the other rides. Eleanor Johnson told me that she and a friend had taken the street car from Batavia to the fair. They had fun on the rides. Eleanor finally coaxed her timid friend to go with her on the roller coaster. Eleanor loved it, but her friend was really scared. After the ride was over, Eleanor had to walk directly behind her friend so that people would not see the damp spot on the back of her skirt.


Thousands of people came from everywhere to see or partici­pate in the great event. Well­ groomed animals waited in their pens to be admired by the crowds and judged by the professionals, as they competed for the coveted blue ribbons and prizes.


The grandstand shows were spectacular. Always popular sulky races were held every afternoon. Each day two huge retired steam locomotives, under full power, crashed head-on into each other, accompanied by screaming crowds. At the evening shows, bespangled acrobats on beautiful snow-white horses performed. Aerialists, in shimmery costumes, entertained the crowd with their daring acts on the trapeze and high wire. Each  evening closed with fireworks, and a mad scramble for the exits. About that time, 4H clubs for farm children were formed.


There was one group in rural Batavia that taught boys better ways in raising farm animals. My brother, Roger, wanted to join, so Papa gave him a baby pig to raise. Roger followed the instructions of his leaders. When fair time rolled around, Roger and Betty were ready. In competition with other 4H'ers, Roger's Betty received a blue ribbon. She and Roger did everything right. His project for the following year was to raise a litter of pigs from Betty. Again, he was awarded a prize, this time a purple ribbon for grand champion. He sold Betty and her young family for a handsome price.


That same year I -- little jealous me -- had to have a pig to raise, too. She was all black, as cute as a minute. I named her Ruby. I taught her to follow me by holding an ear of corn in my hand. I fed her, brushed her, and talked to her every day. She grunted her approval. Lots of times when I entered the pig pen, she would squeal. I knew she must be hungry so I'd give her an ear of corn. Roger's club did not allow girls, but somehow I was allowed to enter Ruby at the fair. Mama ordered new khakis for Roger and little khaki knickers for me. She said she wanted us to look as nice as our wellgroomed pigs.  


I did fairly well in the judging ring. Papa had made a small herder for me so I could keep Ruby away from the other pigs. The judge awarded Ruby a pink ribbon, which meant she was in fifth place (there were four other pigs in her class)! He told me she was a fine pig, but thought maybe I had been giving her too many ears of corn. The following year, I decided to be a girl again and joined an all-girl 4H sewing club.


There was one event that first year of the fair that really attracted my attention. Inside one of the large buildings, here was a row of white booths with large glass windows. Inside each booth there was a counter holding a baby scale and a crying baby, completely undressed. A doctor and nurse were trying to examine the baby. When they had finished with one baby, they would move on to the next booth. The mother would then come into the first booth and dress her-sobbing baby, with loving words to quiet her baby's fears. Mama walked away, thinking I would follow her as I always did, but Iwas so busy watching the unhappy little babies that I didn't realize she had left.


All around me were strange faces, with people shoving and pushing so they could see their special little babies being examined. A feeling of panic filled me. This eight-year-old kid began to cry. A police officer came and put his arm around me, then lifted me up to see if I could locate Mama. When he let me down, there was Mama standing beside us. The midway was another place of great attraction for a country kid like me.


Mama had warned both Roger and me, "Don't spend one cent on the fakirs." I didn't, but one day I was walking down the midway and stopped to listen to this fellow hawking his wares. I noticed a box of compacts, containing face powder, right at the edge of his stand. I remembered Mama's warning, but I just wanted one of those compacts so bad that I watched my chance and slid one into my pocket. I worried the rest of the week that someone had seen me. When I got home, I went into the garage, found a small can of blue paint, and covered up the pretty black compact with the gold medallion.


The guilt I felt taught me that I would never again steal another thing, and I haven't. The fair ran for seven years, ending in 1929. Was it because of the stock market crash or lack of interest?


Memories linger of two glorious weeks in August that continued to attract exhibitors and entertain thousands of visitors.





Be sure to attend the Society's general membership meeting on Sunday, July 18. We will learn about an important project that affects us all, "Batavia's Main Street Program," from its director, Lisa Bennett.


The meeting, to be held in the Bartholomew Room at the Civic Center, will begin at 2 p.m. Guests are not only welcome -- they are encouraged to attend.


Light refreshments will be served.

 Further Fair Memories


• A popular exhibit at the fair was Monkey Island, a gazebo-shaped cage full of monkeys.


• Two miniature trains carried people around the grounds for 10¢ a ride.


• The Tunnel of Love was built beneath the Ferris Wheel.


• An Olympic-sized swimming pool was the largest and best in the United States.


• Exposition Hotel was built around the swimming pool.



This story could go on and on with the help of good friends who filled insome of the details of this story --


- Jeanette Nelson Anderson (related to the Siaker family), who remembers that her sister, Agnes Nelson Perrow, parked  

   cars at the fair, in Siakers' hayfield. A few years later Agnes taught at Buelter School, including Roger and me.


- Betty Tuftee, whose family had to leave their home and farm.


- Jack Killian, who lived across the road and watched the fairground being built. He and his dad slept in their backyard

  during the fair so that women employees at the fair could have a place to live.


- Eleanor Johnson, who has a great memory and loves to tell stories.


- And Bill Wood, who can give almost any information pertaining to Batavia'spast and its people.


Thanks for the memories!




What's Doing at the Museum

by Carla Hill, Director


We are delighted to report that the project for the museum addition is moving forward. Its name, announced June 17, will be the Gustafson Research Center, recognizing brothers John A. and O. Arnold and sisters Alice and Lucille Gustafson's efforts to collect and preserve an extraordinary amount of Batavia history.


Until the formation of the Batavia Historical Society in 1960 and the creation of the museum in 1975, the Gustafsons served as the community's unofficial historians. Placing their name on the space that many will use for research is a fitting way to honor their contribution.


Tentative dates have been set for the construction bidding and the ground breaking. We shall keep you advised regarding developments. As we enter summer, museum attendance has been steadily increasing. During April, May and June, we hosted several groups including all of Batavia's third grade classes. The attendance figure for these groups totaled almost 500 people.


The Junior Membership program is scheduled to begin on June 23 and will continue through September. We have some new ideas for this year's program, which will include a photographic display done entirely by the participants. You will be seeing some new displays on the main floor of the museum this summer.' Among those of special interest, one will feature the 150th anniversary of the Burlington Railroad. Members and others are urged to share their memories for an exhibit in the spring of 2000. Please submit a photograph of your favorite Batavia memory, along with a short paragraph about the photo.


All photographs will be copied and promptly returned to you, but your memories will be preserved in the museum's collection forever. Drop your photo and paragraph off any week day before January at the Batavia Park District office -- attention of myself or Chris Winter.


If you have questions, call us at 879-5235. Be sure to take the few minutes involved to help make this exhibit a success. Chris and I are planning a fall trip for the museum volunteers to the Chicago Historical Society to view its latest exhibit on Chicago's role in the westward movement. One of the museum's windmill models is prominently displayed in the exhibit.


And now for some unhappy news -- Dorothy Hanson, Helen Anderson and Marilyn Phelps have decided to retire from their weekly job of cataloging new artifacts and documents that come to the museum.


They have spent many years working with the museum's collections and will be sorely missed. We sincerely thank them for all that they have done to make the museum's cataloging system accessible for anyone doing research at the museum.


Come down and visit the museum this summer. If you aren't currently a volunteer but would be interested in becoming one, call Kathy Fairbairn at 406-9041 .



Mark Your Calendars For Annual Cemetery Walk


We know the cemetery walk is  almost three months away, but be  sure to mark its date, September  26, on your calendar. This annual  event, sponsored by the Heritage Committee of ACCESS and the Batavia Historical Society, will be

held this year in the East Batavia Cemetery. Rain date will be Sunday,  October 2. 


Instead of having actors portray people in the cemetery as in past  years, guides will take guests on  a tour of the cemetery. Using a script written by Marilyn Robinson, the guides will tell a little about  many of those laid to rest in the

cemetery and about the cemetery itself.


The first tour will begin at 1 p.m., and the last one will begin at 3:30  p.m. Each tour will take about 30  minutes. Mark the date on your  calendar, and watch for more details  in the newspapers.




A Warm Welcome

New members and other matters...


Since the last issue, the following persons have either joined as, or changed their membership to  become, Life Members:


Dr. and  Mrs. Robert Barnes,

John and Karol Clark,

Richard and Joanne Hansen,

Harold and Marj Holbrook,

and Robert E. Nelson. 


Other new members (all from Batavia unless otherwise noted) include:


Chester A. Anderson (Pinckney, Michigan),

Diane  Anderson Family,

Mary Lou Antill (Geneva),

Diane and Norm Bergquist (Elburn),

Mr. and Mrs. Richard Bowron (Amboy, Illinois), 

Claudia Goggin,

Claudia Gronvalt (Exeter, New Hampshire),

Mr. and  Mrs. Walter Hendrickson (Pensacola, Florida),

Kip Henelly,

Donald K. and Joan Johnson,

Florence Liedberg (Geneva),

Laura Lundgren,

Carl Nelson,

David Pinner (Lincolnshire, Illinois),

Bea and Dick Porch (Huntington Beach, California),

Milton and Kapiope Russ,

Matt Shay (Junior Member),

Ronald and Linda Stephano,

Timothy J. Warfel (Tallahassee, Florida),

R. Wheatley Family,

and Julie Wulff (Junior Member).


We welcome these new members and look forward to their participation in the activities of the society.


We regret to report the death of Lydia Jeane Stafney, a charter member of the Society and a Life Member since 1988.


In the last three months we received the following memorial gifts:


From the Class of 1933 in memory of Evelyn Senfit Hines and from Elliott and Norma Lundberg in memory of Helen Clarno.


In addition, the Hanson/Furnas Family Foundation gave the Society $1,000.




Batavia's First World War II Honor Roll

By Corliss Andrews Weaver




My father, Ture Andrews, served as a First Ward Alderman from May, 1941, to May, 1949.


He felt an honor roll should be put up to honor all the men and women who had gone into service during World War II.


When he didn't seem to be getting cooperation from the other Council members, he decided to go with his idea to State Senator Arnold Benson from Batavia, who encouraged him to go ahead with his honor roll plan.


As shown in the accompanying program, many people took part in the dedication. My father was very proud of his idea and felt that all the hard work was worthwhile.


After World War II ended in 1945, this honor roll was removed. In the summer of 1946, a group of veterans built the present honor roll on property that was given by the City of Batavia to honor veterans.









 Batavians I Have Known - Frank W. Olson, Sr.

As Told to Sadie Lundberg


Frank Olson was born on May 22, 1890, in Skone, Sweden, and came to America in 1911. He had a brother in Moline and a sister in Batavia, who had left home before he, the baby in the family, was born. He was asked to accompany a young girl of 18 or 19 to see that she got to America safely. They traveled by boat to Copenhagen and across Denmark by train to reach a seaport where they boarded a ship for England.


The ship was used for cattle one way and emigrants on the return trip. Upon arrival in England, they took a train to Liverpool, where they stayed for three days before boarding a ship to America, with 700 emigrants on one deck. They experienced a severe storm at sea, and many people were very sick. Because he was not as sick as some, Frank was asked to give medicine to others.


The medicine was whiskey and castor oil. He arrived in Boston and then went to Brooklyn. He wrote to his sister, who replied that he should come to Batavia. Although he was already working, he quit and went to Manhattan where a Danish travel agent arranged his transportation to Batavia. The agent told him to be sure to go through Chicago. That was a good thing because the conductor on the train tried to get him off at Batavia, New York, but Frank kept saying, "Chicago, Chicago, Chicago."


On the train he bought two big apples, and he gave one to a young girl across the aisle who eyed him. She moved over and tried talking to him in English but, when she learned he couldn't speak English, she called him "Greenhorn." The train arrived in Chicago at the Dearborn Street station. Someone saw him looking around and asked to see his ticket,then saw to it that he was put in a horse-drawn van and taken to the Northwestern station.  


After much confusion, he got on a train that said to Batavia, Geneva, etc. After two or three hours, the train left for Batavia. Nobody was there to meet him, but he went outside and pretty soon he saw a woman coming who he could have sworn was his mother. Of course it was his sister, Minnie Ander, whom he had never seen. His second day in Batavia, he met Ida Johnson, who helped him learn English and became his wife.


Edetorial Note: After a long and productive life in Batavia, Frank Wolson, Sr., died in 1991, aged 101.