THE BATAVIA HISTORIAN

Volume Forty

No. 4 

 

October, 1999

 


Swanson True Value Hardware 1946-1999

 

53 years of operation by the late Arthur W. Swanson and his family -- 44 years at the same location. Jerry Harris and Elliott Lundberg interviewed Art's sons, Wayne and Dennis, while they were here for the closing. This story is based on that interview and some clippings they provided.

 

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The timing was right when Arthur W. Swanson walked into the Barckley Hardware Store one day in late 1946. During World War II, Art had been the plant manager of the Challenge Company, then part of the Batavia Metal Products Company,

but Challenge had gone out of business a few months earlier.

 

Although Art had some job offers, accepting any of them would have meant moving out of town -- something neither Art nor his wife, Marion, wanted to do. So, when Arthur J. Barckley told him his store was for sale, Art moved quickly and, over a weekend, agreed to buy the store for $15,000. Although Art and Marion had some money saved, they were looking for partners -- and thought they had one, maybe two.

 

As Dennis Swanson remembers, Charlie Haag was going to join Art in buying the store and operating the sheet metal department but backed out about a week before the transaction closed. Ernie Nelson used to say that he almost went into the business with Art, but didn't.

 

So the Swansons had to «ome up with some addional money. They got it by borrowing from Carl Redborg and, as Wayne and Dennis recall, the First National Bank. As Art later said on several occasions, they really got a good deal because there was probably more than $15,000 worth of inventory when they bought the store.

 

The hardware store that Art and Marion bought had a long and interesting history, back to the decade precedingthe Civil War. As Harriet Meredith, then the 95 year-old daughter of Milo M. Kemp, the first owner, recalled at the time of the Batavia Centennial celebration in 1933, the store that her father opened in 1855 was the first hardware store in Kane County.

 

Two years later, he was joined by his son-in-law, Thomas Meredith. When Kemp retired in 1868, Edwin Meredith, Thomas' brother, bought Kemp's interest, and the firm operated under the name of Meredith Brothers. In 1879 Edwin Meredith became the sale owner and moved the stock of goods into the Geo. W. Fowler building, which he later bought. That building was on the southwest corner of Wilson and River streets, later the site of Batavia National Bank.

 

Emanuel Holbrook, who had been employed by Meredith, purchased the business when Meredith retired in 1891. After Holbrook's death in 1895, Darius Bartholomew and his son, Arlie, bought the business, conducting it under the name of Bartholomew and Son. Three years later, in March of 1898, John P. Barckley purchased Bartholomew and Son's operations and, a year later, the Evanston Hardware Company in the Walt Block on East Wilson,combining the stock into what became J. P. Barckley Hardware Store. The business was moved to 2 West Wilson Street in 1901.

 

Barckley's son, Arthur J., became associated with the firm in 1913 and, after his father's death in 1916, took over the entire vol_40_12.jpgbusiness and changed its name to A. J.Barckley Hardware Store. The store was enlarged at the same location in 1936.

The Swansons took over December 1, 1946, although

Barckley remained for a period of time to answer questions

and assist with the transition.

 

Wayne and Dennis recall fondly that the business became a family affair, with the two of them, their sister, their parents all working together. Their mother, Marion, worked at home, keeping the books and making out statements; later she did some of the buying.

 

She insisted that the store be painted in light colors and

saw to it that the front of the store was kept painted. Wayne

was 12 and Dennis 8 when the store was purchased, and

while still in grade school helped after school and in the

summers. Dennis said that it turned out to be a good thing

that there were no partners. As he recalls, "It was something

like being a farm family."

 

And it was an extended family operation, especially at

busy times. All the family worked there at one time or another.

Art's sister Violet Johnson worked at the store for many

years. On weekends and when there was remodeling, Dick

Miller, husband of sister Audrey, helped. At times like Christmas, a lot of the sisters worked there. Helen and Esther pitched in when there were projects under way.

 

Bill Kluwe, who had worked for Barckley, continued for a while. Helen Anderson (wife of Ragnar Anderson) was an early employee, keeping the books and helping Marion with housewares. Evelyn Beresford was the next employee, working for Swanson's for a number of years.

 

Late in the 1940s, Everet Shoop began working for the store. Other early employees included Andy Anderson (father of Glenn Anderson) and Scoop Zollers. A few years later, a man named John Cotter came up with the idea of forming a cooperative for independent hardware stores and called a meeting that Art attended in Sycamore. After the meeting 25 original members signed up, and the V and S Hardware group was formed -- V for value and S for service. Although Art did not sign up immediately, he did later and became the 38th member of what is now called True Value.

 

Swanson's remained in the building on the south side of Wilson Street, east of the old First National Bank building (now the Board of Education), until 1955. Robert's Barber Shop was located next to the river, then Swanson's, followed by the paint store (later McCune's) and then Schreiner's Drug Store.

 

According to Dennis, an older man who recently came into the store remembered Art's telling him that he was going to move because Vic Erday, the owner of the building the store was in, was going to raise the rent from $300 to $450 per month, an amount that Art thought was too much. Art's sister Vi and her husband, Morrie Johnson, owned the property west of the old post office and extending to the J pond (now, after being filled, the site of the Batavia Shopping Plaza).

 

Dennis thinks they had bought it for back taxes. Art bought the western portion on which to build the new store. Because the property was scarcely above the pond level, it was necessary to put in piling before construction commenced. In 1963 or 1964, Swanson's bought the rest of the propertyand expanded to the east. There were two hardware stores in Batavia, theirs and the Anderson Hardware Store run by Vic Anderson and his Art Swanson with Ed Elkin and Homer Hanlon son, Clifford. They had a good relationship, friendly competition.

 

If one of the stores happened to be out of an item a customer wanted, it would call the other and then run over

to pick up whatever was needed. Wayne had gone to the University of Colorado and, after graduation, worked a couple of years in Chicago before joining the store full time. Dennis started full time in the store after graduation from high school.

 

With their mother operating the housewares part, they were ready to assume responsibility for the store's day-to-day operations by the time Art became mayor of Batavia in 1960. Several years later, probably between 1968 and 1972, Swanson's bought the unpaved parking lot south of the store from Katy Industries, then the owner of the Batavia Body Company. It had been used for employee parking by Batavia Body and by customers of the theater then operating on the east side of what is now Shumway Avenue. Wayne and Dennis believe that this was a good move not only for the hardware store but also for the entire community since it provided needed parking and prevented other development that would have only exacerbated downtown parking problems Wayne and Dennis emphasize that their father instilled in them and employees a sense of fairness in the operation of the store.

 

With his involvement in the U.S. Wind Engine and later the challenge companies, he had worked with many of the people who later became his customers and voted for him when he ran for mayor. This relationship was revealed in the many comments his sons received from people who came in during the final days of the store's operation. Until the late 1970s, Swanson's offered credit to as many as 1,200 customers.

 

In all its years of doing business in Batavia, very few checks bounced and there were hardly any bad debts. This was particularly true with respect to the black community, with which the store enjoyed a great business relationship. When interest rates skyrocketed in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, however, Swanson's found it necessary to discontinue credit except to business customers. The fact that credit cards had become common by then made the change easy.

 

Wayne enjoyed Colorado when in school, and eventually Dennis, too, decided that it was a great place to live. They live in Steamboat Springs, which boasted 5,000 residents when they moved there and now has 7,000. Their stores out there are like the Batavia store, with free popcorn and a small-town feel. The decision to close the Batavia store, which was not easy, was based on several factors, chief among which was the planned bridge rebuilding - not the competition from Menard's and Home Depot as some may have suspected.

 

Although those large stores did affect business, that alone would not have forced them to sell. Wayne is now 64 and Dennis is 60, and neither of them felt the need to battle the problems that would surely arise in the next few years, especially when they lived over a thousand miles away.

 

In answer to the question why they did not sell the business rather than closing the store, they said that the difficulty a buyer would have securing financing in view of increased competition and the bridge rebuilding made it more viable to sell the vacant store building and old post office building next door, which they also owned. Several people, they said, have shown interest in buying these properties.

 

So, after 154 years, 53 of which have been under Swanson ownership, the hardware store most recently known as Swanson's True Value has closed.

 

There are many regrets, certainly, but those years of service to Batavia have left many warm memories.

 

 


 

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 630-879-5235.

 


Marge Rundle and the Batavia Art Fair

 

Marge Rundle, aged 97, has lived at the Aurora Manor nursing home for the last ten years, but she cherishes fond memories of her many years spent in furthering the arts in Batavia. Recently Elliott Lundberg and your editor, along with her son Joe, interviewed her to learn more about the early days of the Batavia Art Fair, which she initiated in 1957.

 

In 1957, Marge Rundle started what was to become a community event, the Batavia Art Fair, which was held each year on the Saturday after Labor Day. She was involved in its operation for most of its life, until her health began to fail. Marge's sister, Jane Carlson, had a card shop in the Hubbard Furniture Store building, and they arranged to hold the first show in Hubbard's basement. Bobby Phillips, a teacher at the high school, helped from the start. Marge and the other organizers were successful in getting many well-known local artists, including Joe Kren from Batavia, Adrienne Frazier from Aurora, and Paul Randall from Warrenville, to display their work.

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After a few years, the fair was moved across Batavia Avenue to the lawn of the library (now the Newton House). The women of the Methodist Church, of which Marge was an active member, helped, making coffee for the artists and getting the men to crarry tables and chairs from the church to the library grounds.

 

Mary Ann Judd made all the arrangements. Marge wonders how many people today remember Oke Pomp, a character known to all Batavians in the 1960s. He came up to her at the fair and said, "Marge, if people don't know anything about art, like me, they should still come."

 

Eventually the show became so large that Wilson Street was closed between Batavia Avenue and Lincoln Street, with displays spilling over onto the lawns of Bethany Lutheran Church and what is now Gammon Corners.

 

Then the women began bringing food -- cakes, cookies and popcorn -- and the Chamber of Commerce sponsored a band concert in Bethany Lutheran. As Marge recalls, it was wonderful fun, even when the bees began to create a problem. And for 90 percent of the years, the sun shone.

 

Although Marge was not a teacher, she was active in the arts before, during and after her involvement in the art fair. For many years, she and her long-time friend, Jane Elwood, had Saturday afternoon puppet shows at the Methodist Church.

 

As a rule, they would not let children have popcorn until after the show. Then they would go out of doors, and the women of the church would bring popcorn out to the children. Marge used to go to Mooseheart, where she gave puppet shows for the children in the art department, and for thirteen years, she taught puppetry to children at the Aurora YWCA. Over the years, Marge has received some of the public recognition she so richly deserves.

 

She was Batavia Citizen of theYear in 1975. Then, in 1987, she received a plaque from the Chamber of Commerce (which she has given to the Batavia Historical Society) that pretty well says it all.

 

It reads: Presented to Marge Rundle for her many years devoted to teaching arts and crafts and for organizing the Batavia Art Fair thirty years ago. The citizens of Batavia thank her.

 


A Walk Around Batavia in 1875

 

(Continued from last issue) 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 BataviaAvenue and Houston Street, 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 OeKalb 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.

 

South of the Clapp home (now the site of Gammon Corners) was the entrance to the West Side School (Picture 7), built in 1867, which had four (Picture 7) vol_40_15.jpgWest Side School rooms.

 

On the first floor, Grace McWayne taught 1st and 2nd grades, and Georgia Morgan taught the 3rd, 4th and 5th grades. On the second floor, Ellen McWayne had the 6th and 7th grades. The 8th grade and high school studies were taught by J. H. Barry in the other second-floor room. On the third floor was a large hall and stage used by traveling shows and school entertainments.

 

In the 1880s when the Music Hall (on Shumway Avenue) was built, all entertainments were given there. South of the entrance to the school on Batavia Avenue was the Congregational Church. During a storm its very tall steeple was blown over and went through the James Rockwell house next door. Fortunately, no one was injured. The Rockwell property extended quite a way to the west and had a large vineyard in the rear.

 

The property on the corner of First Street and Batavia Avenue was occupied by J. S. Harvey, who ran the coal yard near the North Western station.

Directly west of his house were one or two residences and on the corner of Washington (Lincoln) Street stood the Methodist Church (now the Buttrey Wulff Mamminga Agency Picture 8).vol_40_16.jpg I fail to remember any other (Picture 8) Old Methodist Church houses on First until the corner of Jefferson Street, where H. H. Rockwell's home occupied the northeast corner and the Sperry home, the (Picture 9) John Burnham House northwest.

 

Across from the Sperry home lived Henry Wade, and across Jefferson to the east was the Todd home.

 

On Washington just south of First was the F.K. George house and south of that, the John Burnham property (Picture 9).

 

vol_40_18.jpgThe Mann property was across First from the Methodist Church. East of Mann's was the 1.1. Griffin home and livery stable. Next east was the Corning home and last was the home of Mr. Houck, township commissioner. (Picture 10 Buck Block) At Batavia Avenue and First was the F.H. Buck two-story frame building (Picture 10).

 

vol_40_17.jpgScott Corning ran a furnishing goods and luggage store in the corner half of the building, and James Rockwell ran a candy and ice cream parlor in the south half. We kids would turn his ice cream freezer for the reward of licking the can.

 

The upper floor was a hall, and Dr. Cox, a young dentist, had offices there. Batavia's first telephone office was opened there; and early on, the Episcopal Church held Sunday School on Sunday afternoons there. South of the Buck Block was the home of George Burton, a one-story stone building. South of that was the Dorn Block, a three-story stone building. It held two stores, a pharmacy owned by the Wolcotts and Smith and Collins' grocery and dry goods store.

 

There was a center entrance to the vol_40_19.jpg living quarters on the second floor. The third floor was a dance hall known as Dorn's Hall. Directly south of Dorn's was a long one-story wooden building occupied by John Burnett's feed store. Next was the property of Arthur Corning on the alley.

 

There was vacant property between that and the Revere House, a hotel. Back of the Revere House was a big livery barn. On the corner of Batavia Avenue and Main Street was a three story stone building. The main floor housed George and Matthew Burton's hardware and grocery store, with a tin shop in the back end run by E.C. Davey. The north half was a meat market run by Pet James and William Updike and later by Nels A. Benson. The second and third floors were living quarters. On the west side of the alley on Main Street was a blacksmith shop run by Phils Hawley.

 

Hawley built the first tall bicycle in the city. It had wooden wheels like a buggy wheel. Next was the stone house of Silas Way. His yard was covered with beehives and grape vines, and he was known as "Honey Bee Way."

 

Kids never stole grapes from "Honey Bee." Next was the home of Captain Ed Stafford, Civil War veteran and township assessor (Picture 11). Next was the Knox home, and at Washington (Lincoln) lived Dr. Cooper.

 

 

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West in the next block I remember only Peter Hobler's, at the corner of Jefferson Street (Picture 12) and two houses before Jackson Street. Across Jackson west was the home of James Allen, Superintendent of the VanNortwick Paper Company.

 

I think that was the last house east of the train tracks. Across the tracks was the home of Michael Collins, one of the few Irishmen who lived on the west side. He was section boss for the west side C.B. & Q. railroad. The railroad at that time extended to Geneva. It was principally a freight line, but had an afternoon passenger train. There was a low spot that extended from the tracks west to the back of the Glasspoole home on West Main Street. We kids skated there in the spring when the river was unsafe.

 

I remember but one house between the tracks and South Jackson on the south side of Main. Then there was the stone house at the corner of Jackson. On the southeast corner of Main and Jefferson was the home of Lewis Updike. The next house was the Daniel Halladay home (Picture 13), then the Thomas Hunter home, and then the home of Judge Moore (where Lincoln meets Main Street - Picture 14).

 

The adjoining house belonged to E.M. Howland, and the next house was owned by the Swafford family, and many years later by J.H. Sanders, who conducted a tea room there. On the southwest corner of Main and Batavia Avenue was the large stone home of Smith Mallory (Picture 15), who helped to build the C.B. & Q. from Aurora to Galesburg. The Mallory property extended to Elm Street, and the south half was an orchard of all kinds of apple trees. Mrs. Mallory owned a large cider press, and every fall there was a session of cider making on the premises, much to the advantage of "Honey Bee" Way and his bees and a big gang of small boys.

 

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C.w. Shumway lived at the southwest corner of Elm and Batavia Avenue. A block away on Union Avenue was the home of J.P. Prindle. Across the street south (now the Lincoln Courts) was the home of H.K. Wolcott (Picture 16), which occupied a square block. At the west end of Union Avenue stood Bellevue Sanitarium. Kitty corner northeast was the Holbrook family home (Picture 17).

 

East of that was Seymour Wolcott's home (Picture 18). The J.O. McCleland home was on the northeast corner of Jefferson and , Union. Beginning at the northeast cornerof Walnut Street and Batavia Avenueand extending southwest to Morton Street was a large swale. Beyond that,near the C.B. & Q. tracks, was a berry patch -- strawberries and raspberries -- owned by Dr. H. H. Williams. We boys frequently picked strawberries there. South of Walnut Street, there was nothing but woods until the home of Judge Lockwood (across from the cemetery - Picture 19). North of the cemetery was the Coffin stone house (now "Stone Manor"). Next was the home of Nelson Wolcott, which was later moved to Blaine Street. There were two houses north of that. The Episcopal rectory was on the southeast corner of Union and Batavia Avenues.

 

Across Union north was the home of Charles Norris, partner of Hiram Doty in the wooden pump manufactory. At Elm Street was the Brown home, where two large wooden ducks became landmarks in the front yard. Continuing north, there was the home of John Burnett. There were vacant lots where the Episcopal Church stands. Evidently church constructionwas contemplated as there was a grassed-over open basement which we kids used as our rendezvous to start such games as blank-a-lion, run-sheep-run, etc. There were two houses on Main Street east of the church, one the home of Samuel Wilson, and the other, on the corner of Water Street, was the home of Joseph Whipple, longtime sheriff of Kane County.

 

On the northeast corner of Batavia Avenue and Main Street was the greenhouse of Dr. H.H. Williams and his two sons. Dr. Williams was Kane County coroner for a long time. North of the greenhouse was a livery stable and a blacksmith shop. The next building was a stone one owned by D.W. Sterling and son, where they ran a furniture and undertaking business.

 

Up against this stone building was a small frame building used by Squire Crawford as his office where he fined drunks for getting drunk and straightened out petty law violations. At First Street was a two-story wooden store building where L.M. Whitney ran a shoe store on the first floor and a photo gallery on the second floor.

 

My mental journey has brought to mind some of the old settlers such as the Chapman brothers Doc and Jerry. Doc lived across the alley from the Burtons (north of what is now Olmstead's on Wilson). He was a veterinarian, and Jerry was a carpenter. What Jerry couldn't fix, Doc could. He manufactured Chapman's liniment and Chapman's salve, which farmers swore by as horse medicines. Another interesting character was Dr. L.M. Burroughs.

 

He doctored grown-ups. If you couldn't be curedby his little black pills, you couldn't be cured. Dr. Garnsey, another real character, took care of the kids with sugar pills and an occasional orange that he would fish out of his pocket.

 

Practically every home had a doctor book on the shelf and a bottle of goose oil handy - it was the days of home remedies, once removed from the Indian herb brew. The call for a doctor was almost a state occasion.

 

Another regal character was Judge Moore, a lawyer, with his silk hat, Prince Albert coat, and a cane. George Blackman lived at the poor farm. He came to our house every Sunday morning to get his penny from Father so he could go to Sunday School.

 

In those days, hacks were run to meet all of the passenger trains, and it was nip and tuck between a Mr. Willmarth and Griffin to get the best spot nearest the train to grab the customers. A hack could hold from four to six passengers. In the spring and fall, the pond and the river would be dotted with row boats manned by old Swedish men out for fish. In those days, the river abounded with fish of all kinds.

 

The old Batavia Coronet Band was one of the best in these parts. I don't remember their ever having uniforms. They led all the parades, and played on all occasions where a band was needed.

 


 Developments Regarding the Museum's Gustafson Research Center

 

 

Earlier this year, we reported that the State of Illinois had granted $50,000 for the Gustafson Research Center expansion at the Depot Museum, estimated to cost $150,000. This one-for two grant was contingent on the raising of the remaining $100,000 from other sources. The Batavia Park District and the Batavia Historical Society each made a commitment of $50,000 to meet this requirement.

 

In August Doug Weigand, Batavia's representative on the County Board, informed us that additional money for educational purposes was available from Elgin riverboat funds. The Society applied for $50,000 to cover its share of the museum expansion costs, and this request was granted on August 12.

 

At that stage it appeared that the cost was substantially covered and that the Society's financial support would be limited to any over-run, expected to be relativeley minor, and the center's furnishing.

 

When the two bids were opened on September 23, however, there was a shock -- the lower of the two was an amount in excess of $200,000!

 

The joint committee of the Society and the Park District that is overseeing this project has a meeting scheduled to identify possible economies that can be achieved without impairing either the appearance or the operational efficiency of the center.

 

After that, the Park District's board will meet to act on the bids -- but not until too late for any decisions to be reported in this issue.

 

Members, however, can expect the project to go forward on schedule. Some savings will undoubtedly be found, and the final cost to the Society will still be approximately that which was anticipated when the board made its commitment to the project.

 


 

Don't Miss the Fall Membership Meeting

From Paleo Indian to Potawatomi: Batavia Is Native American Past

by Mary Kennedy

 

2:30 p.m., Sunday, October 3,1999

Civic Center, Bartholomew Room

LIGHT REFRESHMENTS WILL BE SERVED -- GUESTS ARE WELCOME!

 

Batavia was founded by people of European descent in the 1830s, but the Fox River Valley has been inhabited by America's native people for at least 10,000 years.

 

Learn more about the Indians who were here at the time of white settlement and about the long sequence of Native American cultures in this area.

 

Mary Kennedy is Curator of Collections at the Schingoethe Center for Native American Cultures at Aurora University. She holds a BA from the University of Minnesota and an MA from Washington University in St. Louis. She has worked as an archaeologist, a researcher, and an editor of archaeological publications before coming to the Schingoethe Center.

 

 


Board of Directors Meetings

 

April 6. 1999

 

- Elgin Community College invited the Society to participate in their 50th anniversary celebration by placing something

in a time capsule. It was agreed to send a copy of the  current newsletter and a copy of John Gustafson's Historic

Batavia. 

 

- The next cemetery walk will be held on September 26 and will differ in format from the past. It will be a walk

with a leader noting points of interest, rather than actors portraying historical characters.

 

- Carla reported that The Friends of the Riverwalk approved  the historical plaques for the Riverwalk proposed by the Park District and the Historical Society and agreed to use the same format for additional signage on the Riverwalk.

 

June 8. 1999

 

- Carla reported clearance has been received from the Illinois Preservation Agency to proceed with plans for the addition to the Depot Museum. Drawings have been approved and bids will soon be sought for the addition.

 

- It was agreed to name the addition the Gustafson Research Center.

 

- Resignations have been received from Helen Anderson, Dorothy Hanson, and Marilyn Phelps effective at the end of

the current year from their work filing, cataloguing, etc. at the Museum. They have given many years of dedicated service.

 

- There was discussion on the big clock at the Museum. It has been repaired numerous times, but runs for just a

short time following repairs. Another attempt will be made to fix it.

 


 

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