Volume Forty-One

No. 4


Volume 41 No. 4

October, 2000


Seventy Years Together

Avenue Motors and the Clark Family




The story that follows is based on interviews that Elliott Lundberg and your editor had with Donald W. Clark of Avenue Motors and recollections that Wendell Pitz, an early employee of Avenue Motors, prepared at Don's request.


For seventy years, three generations of the Clark family --first William H., better known as "Scoop," then Donald W., and most recently John W., have operated an automobile dealership in Batavia. The dealership, named Avenue Motors for most of those years, has been at three locations. In 1923 or 1924, Scoop, whom his son, Don, describes as a crackerjack mechanic, began working for Tom Joyce, a Ford dealer in the  building at 24 North Batavia Avenue - a building that was later occupied by Avenue Motors. Scoop heard rumours that Joyce was connected with AI Capone; he had worked on at least two of the limousine-type cars that were "souped up" to outrun the police, reputedly on the bootlegging run between Chicago and Canada.


By late 1929, Scoop, then the service manager, and George Nelson, a body and fender man, at Joyce's garage, decided to go out on their own, and on January 1, 1930, they opened the Main Garage in a rented building on Main Street, west of Batavia Avenue. Besides Scoop and George, the first four people working at the Main Garage included Bobby Johnson and Billy Hepworth. Shortly after that, Don said, " A young man by the name of Leo Opperman came to Dad and said he had done all of the monkey business he wanted to do and had been to California . He asked Dad if he had any room for him. He had worked for Dad previously at the Ford dealership so Dad hired him in late 1930 or 1931. That was one of the best things Dad ever did for Leo stayed with him all of the years." When they moved to the Main Garage, Scoop obtained a Hudson and Essex dealership. In 1932, however, he was able to acquire a Pontiac and Buick franchise, and he discontinued Hudson and Essex. The next year, as Don recalls, "the Chevrolet dealer in Batavia was a sub-dealer out of Geneva, and General Motors was no longer signing contracts with subdealers. So Dad contacted General Motors and asked if he could have that Chevrolet franchise on a direct deal.


They accommodated him, so that was his first year as a Chevrolet dealer." He also retained the Pontiac and Buick franchises. The Great Depression had set in, and those years in the 1930s were tough. As Don put it, "Automobile sales were not the greatest. Dad acquired another partner later, though I don't remember his name." In 1933, Scoop and George Nelson had an opportunity to move back to the building where they had worked before opening Main Garage. Tom Joyce had gone out of business, probably bankrupt. (Could it have been that the repeal of Prohibition had dried up a lucrative part of his business?) The owners of the building, H.T. Windsor, president of the Batavia National Bank, and Emil J. Benson, a local attorney, offered to rent the building to the Main Garage -- an offer that Scoop and George readily accepted. The new facility provided about 8,400 square feet on each floor, main and lower level, as well as lots of 100 feet by 140 feet on the upper level and 70 feet by 100 feet on the lower.


At that time, they did not need the lower level -- and they could use extra income -- so they rented it out to tenants who stored trucks there. Also, for evenings, they rented a couple of stalls out to the telephone company, whose drivers had keys that gave them access to the shop area but not to the office. And, for many years, "a fellow by the name of Bob Koubenec had some humungous-size diesel vehicles that he stored and repaired on the lower level. He picked up milk and dropped it off for the Bow- man Dairy Company on north RiverStreet where B. D. Price Tater had a plumbing establishment." Wendell Pitz, a member of an old Batavia family, began work for what is now Avenue Motors in 1935. He recalls,"During the fall of 1935, I received a phone call from Scoop Clark, a partner in the Chevrolet garage in Batavia. He explained that the bookkeeping teacher had recommendedme as being capable of maintaining their bookkeeping system. As a recent graduate in the class of 1935 during the depths of the Great Depression, Ifauna this- very exciting. At this time, work was extremely difficult to find.


"In our interview, Scoop explained the job description, which was to maintain all records regard ing the operation of the business, act as cashier, greet customers as they entered the show room, answer the phone, and take inventory at designated times. Working hours were 8 to 6, six days a week. Also, I was free to work later if the work load required. Only a person of that time would realize thispresented no obstacle. The salary was $60 per month."Wendell's recollections continue, "As I recall our employees included Leo Opperman, shop foreman; Bob Johnson, mechanic; Arnold Erickson, body man; Ernie Bartholomew, body man and mechanic; Bob Fowler, gas station; Carl Wright, sa lesman; and Walter McGary, salesman. This was a closeknit group; they worked well together and were happy to have their jobs.


Usually the week ended on Saturday at closing, with beer and general conversation. "It was a special privilege to be associated with a business dealing in new and used cars and have steady work. I believe at the time a deluxe Chevrolet with radio and heater sold in the $600 area. That was in 1936 and 1937. Because of the poor economy, sales were few and required extra effort to develop. Because of our small town, leads could be picked up -- then it was common to take a demonstrator and make house calls.


"In the late thirties, the firm was reorganized under the name of Avenue Motors, with Scoop Clark the sole owner. There was an interruption of the business during this changeover. My job was to go about -- town and collect outstanding accounts -- ring door bells, call on offices and respectfully request payment. One I will always remember was calling ona well-known doctor. He spoke of his great difficulty in collecting fees. There was very little medical insuranceat that time. Always I came away with a check, not in full. In time, the account was paid.


My share was either 20% or 25% of the amount collected." Some of Wendell's special memories were: At times on Saturday before closing, Scoop would take whatever was in the cash register as salary for himself and his partner. As the bank deposit was made earlier in the day, this might be very little. When my marriage to Anne took place in September, 1941, my salary was $120 per month. It was enjoyable watching Roy Feece and Scoop going through negotiations when Roy was ready for a new truck or car. I believe both enjoyed prolonging completion of the deal.


Back to Don Clark's memoies (including stories he heard from his father), he recalls that at one time his grandfather Knox lent his father $400 when he was having some difficUlty. Scoop had originally gone to theFirst Nationa Bank of Batavia, and they told him that he didn't have any credit line. Scoop thanked them, got up and walked out. He went over to the Batavia National Bank where H. T. Windsor was the president and Walter Johnson his right-hand man and asked for the line of credit because that was what was needed when buying cars without a floor plan arrangement. They took him on as a risk, and basically the Clarks have been with that bank and its successors to this day. Scoop never would have left the Batavia National Bank because they helped him out when he needed it the most. As Wendell Pitz indicated, the firm was reorganized in the late 1930s. George Nelson and the other partner withdrew, and the business changed its name to Avenue Motors.


Times were so bad that Scoop had to drop Buick and Pontiac,  an action that was then necessary but that Don regrets because of what having the three General Motors lines would mean today. There was a one-month breather during the reorganization, and then Scoop resigned as a Chevrolet dealer. On Sunday, December 7, 1941, Don recalls that he "was listening to the Bears game on the radio when the news came that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. After a while, my dad said that he thought that we should go down to the shop, which we did. He had a brand-new 1942 Chevrolet Aero coupe, and he said that he had better grab that. So he back-dated the order to Saturday and bought the car because he figured the government would grab what stock he had, which wasn't much. He drove that car all during World War II.


In those days, any cars to sell were the gravy -- the mechanical end of the business was where you could make money. During the war, we didn't sell any new cars, and we rarely got an opportunity to get a used car. But the mechanics all left for the service. John Wicklund among them. Al Shandor's son worked for us and he went into the service, along with a couple of the guys we had who were just out of high school. We had a couple of kids still in high school who worked aftemoons and Saturdays until they graduated. The wage control law froze wages for mechanics, while the U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Company and the Challenge Company, which had been bought by the Garsson brothers and did war work, could pay anything.


With few mechanics available, Dad and Leo started working in the shop. They did whatever they could and took whatever live bodies they could get. It was quite a struggle during World War II, and all Dad did was hang in there." 1946, and people were returning from the service. John Wick lund returned, and Shandor came back for a year or two. And Don got out in April, 1946; he went into the shop where, he says, I could do most everything but overhaul. In late 1946, new cars and trucks finally started coming in. Richard Hendrickson, the rural route mail man from Batavia who had bought a car every year from Scoop, ended the war with a four-door Chevrolet that ultimately had 500,000 miles on it! Scoop saw that he got the very first car that came off the truck after the war. With that one exception, Don remembered that Scoop scrupulously delivered cars to buyers in the order that their orders had been placed. 


By the late 1950s, Don recalls, "My dad had started to tail off a bit. I won't say he quit because he didn't, but his trips to Marathon Shores got longer. He'd leave after Christmas and stay until almost income tax time. By the time he was 55, I was more or less running the place. My dad over the years had given me 25% of the business -- I was an only child,  then 25% more and later another 25%. He was still a dealer, however; at that time contracts were such that they would accept two dealers. Then he called me the day before my birthday and asked me to go to lunch with him and look over something. It was then he told me he wanted to give me the last 25% of the business. I told him I didn't want it and wouldn't accept it. He had 43 years as a Chevrolet dealer, and the franchise meant an awful lot to him. I told him he only had seven years to go until he could get his 50 years, and there weren't many Chevrolet dealers in the United States who had 50 years with the same company. Unfortunately, however, Scoop didn't make it.


One morning in 1975, he awoke to find that Stella, his wife of 51 years, had died. Later that same day, as he and Don were making arrangements at the funeral home, Scoop himself dropped dead from a heart attack. The business was now entirely in Dan's hands. In 1979, he had identified Randall Road as the place where the dealership ultimately should move. Attorney Youssi had heard that Don was looking for some property there, so he asked him to look at some land on the southeast corner of Randall and McKee that was being sold for an estate. Don went to the Batavia National Bank, arranged to borrow the money that was needed, and bought the property. John, Dan's son, had gone to work for Peat Marwick, an international accounting firm, after graduation from Wittenberg College. Within a year, he left them to work for Esmark. As Don tells it, "John had not taken his C.P.A. examination at the time. I told him I thought he should get the rest of the required year's experience and take the examination because you don't know what's going to happen, and having the C.P.A. certificate would be something for backup. He did complete what was required while working for Esmark.


Then later on, he went to work for John Morrell. He was doing that, which included running aplant in Montgomery, Alabama, when he came over for dinner one Sunday in 1983. "I told him I was just worn out. I had leasing companies that wanted buy the company, and a couple of dealer friends of mine had sons they wanted to put in business and asked me about selling. I could get all Margie and I needed, and I still owned the building down town free and clear and the lot across the street, as well. John asked if he could come back, and I told him he sure could but that I could only pay him about half of what he was getting. So he decided to come back -- this was shortly after the twins were born and it meant he was home every night, even though he did have to work some nights. "After a couple of years with Avenue Motors, John was getting along fine, but we realized that we would need to move. The location on Batavia Avenue was separated into two parts, with the dealership on the east side of the avenue and the lot across the street. It was getting dangerous to cross the avenue as often as we did, and it was not at all convenient. So John began taking over the running of the business while I went all over looking at dealerships to pick up ideas before I ever went to an architect. "I spent two years going around to various dealers and making sketches of dealers who were from them.


They then developed detailed plans that incorporated the ideas that Don had developed and that provided for future expansion. The result is the attractive dealership at Randall and McKee that opened for operations in 1988. In a letter dated February 23, 2000, Mayor Jeffery Schielke wrote Don, in part, as follows: "Your role and farsighted vision in setting the stage and crafting the political mind set necessary many years ago that set the Randall Road expansionplan into action is a part of our history and public record." Avenue Motors is doing very well these days, Don is glad to say, but he recalls the times, some as recently as ten or fifteen years ago, when the going was tough. The automobile business, he points out, can be difficult, with ups and downs over the years. When John joined the company,he was surprised at the amount of cash in the bank and questioned his father about it. Recalling the days when business was tight, Don told John that he always wanted resources on hand for the rainy days that might come unexpectedly; a few years later, in the late 1980s, John learned the wisdom of this practice.


Summing up the seventy years of Avenue Motors' existence, what Don is most proud of is the loyalty of the many long-time employees -- a loyalty the Clark family has reciprocated. When Scoop was turning the business over to Don, for example, he told him to be sure that Leo Opperman, who had been with the company during years in which wages were low and retirement plans were not available, should always be taken care of, whether or not he was able to work. Other, later employees have been with Avenue Motors for most of their lives. Bill Schweisthal came as a "walk in, tired of doing back alley stuff, in December, 1966. George Hohman began right out of high school in April, 1969. Donny Stammet started a few months later, in September, 1969. And the general sales manager, James Hardy, is almost a 30-year man; he joined in 1971. They, along with a number of other employees with more than ten years service with the company, have found Avenue Motors a good place to work and have helped make it what it is today.


The Shootout Batavia Missed At Wilson and River Streets


There were a number of interesting stories told at the Heritage Roundtable, April 11, 2000, that dealt with the great Depression. Elliott Lundberg transcribed some of these, and we thought our readers would enjoy this one, told by Mayor Jeffery Schielke. At that time, Jeff's grandfather, Herman Schielke, owned the former Kinne and Jeffery store situated on the southeast corner of Wilson and River Streets.


During the Depression at about the time John OHlinger was terrorizing the Midwest with his hold-ups of local banks, the Kane-Kendall Banking Association bought sawed-off shotguns, brought them to all the downtowns, and gave them to the merchants who were contiguous to a bank. My grandfather Herman Schielke had one in his store underneath

the counter, and it was still there when I was a kid. My great aunt Erma Jeffery and my grandfather were not great friends -- in fact, they did not like each other. I can remember her making some disparaging remarks to the effect that she always lived in fear that my grandfather and my uncle Howard Schielke, whom she also didn't like, were likely to go after each other with those sawed-off shotguns.


The joke was that the police department shuddered about the fact that the bankers association gave a shotgun to my grandfather on the southeast corner, to Glenn Crane on the northeast corner, and to the Shaws on the northwest corner; as a result the merchants on the three corners across from the Batavia National Bank (now the site of the Valley National Bank) all had shotguns. God forbid that anything would ever happen because if it had, these three merchants would have come out in the street shooting those sawed-off shotguns and would probably have killed each other in the crossfire.



And We Really Mean It


Kathy Fairbairn, who schedules volunteers for the Depot Museum, tells us that we are facing a critical shortage of people to serve as hosts when the museum is open. Several long-time helpers have had to retire because of health problems -- and there have been disappointingly few replacements. To add to the problem, some of our most faithful volunteers

will be transferring to work in the Gustafson Center that opened for business in early September.


Volunteering at the museum is nothing to be afraid of: it requires no special knowledge, and the few requirements are easy to master. Best of all -- it is fun, and it takes only two hours a month. So please call Kathy at 406-9041 or Carla Hill at 879-5235. Do it now so you won't forget.


Batavians We Have Known - Jane Elwood


The following story is based on an interview that Elliott Lundberg and William J. Wood had with Jane Elwood, a life-long Batavian,on May 9, 2000.


Jane Elwood was born in 1905 in a house on South Batavia Avenue. When she was four or five, her parents sold the house to Roger E. Derby, who replaced it with the large stucco house located at what is now 420 South Batavia Avenue. As she recalls, "We then moved to Washington Street, now Lincoln, and I remember going into that great big house with

great big high ceilinged rooms. It was very primitive. We had no indoor plumbing. We had no electric lights, but we did have gas lights and lamps. We had a stove in almost every room. "The reason my parents bought this great big house was to take in roomers, so any of the spare bedrooms were filled. I remember one time there was a couple in there, and one of them put a chair next to the stove pipe. A fire started.


With all the Gelp in the house, we didn't call the fjre department -- we put the fire out ourselves. We did get indoor plumbing and a furnace installed somewherearound 1915 to 1918." Jane's father was Henry Tincknell, a tailor from England, and her mother was Martha Young. Tincknell, as Jane related, "was crippled, and there were very few lines of work that a crippled person could enter, so he could either' be a shoemaker or tailor. He chose tailoring and was apprenticed to a ta ilor in Wedmore, Berkshire, England. He earned a salary, board and keep, and after a number of years he became a tailor. He went to a cutting school one time -- we have a picture of that. "He came to this country at the urging of Albert E. ("Ed") Davis, who had come from the same part of England. They worked together as tailors. Mr. Davis also had a second-handstore. One of my vivid memories is the 1913 burning oflhe Knights of Pythias building on South Batavia Avenue rnow the site of Bank One].


My father had his tailor shop in the front of the building, and Mr. Davis had his second-hand store in the back of the building. We had heard the fire whistle blowing but didn't pay much attention to it until someone burst into the house and cried, 'Henry, Henry, get up, your place is on fire.' My father had only one thing left after the fire -- a bodkin. He collected a little insurance, but he had to go to work for others." Continuing, Jane recalled, "I was fortunate that the school I attended was just across the street from our house. I went to the 'church' school [formerly the Methodist church, now the Buttrey Wolff Mamminga Agency] for first and second grades. My sister and my brother attended the Central School. I had Grace McWayne as my teacher in first grade. I learned phonics from the old Beacon Readers. Edith Dickenson was my second grade teacher. When I was in second grade, there was a fire that burned the cupola on top of the old Grace McWayne School. The fire department was there putting it out, but it seemed to last an awful long time. The first and second grades were kept in purposely until the fire was out. The other thing I remember in second grade was the small pox epidemic -- it wasn't really an epidemic, but we all had to get vaccinated. "I'm not sure who my third grade teacher was, but I think it was one of the Bapst girls. I think she died, and Miss Woodard came. And then I had Miss Gullotta. When I got into high school, I had J. B. Nelson and Ethel Merrifield. Edith Shepard was principal of the high school when I first went, and then J. B. Nelson. Dr. H. C. Storm was superintendent.


"In 1915, there was adiphtheria epidemic. For several weeks, dactors and nurses would come to the schools every day, and each child and teacher would be examined. They shut down the whole town; no childrenwere allowed in the streets at all. My sister Louise was getting married to aman who had come to Batavia to work on the construction of the Wilson Street Bridge in 1911 or 1912 and boarded at our house. They had to get the health commissioner's approval for their home wedding, with no children allowed. The health officer came and checked to see that no children were in the house. I remember that I wasn't even allowed to go to the station to see my sister and brother-in-law off. On the other side of the river, a man went around on a big white horse, checking the streets to see that no children were around." We asked how it was being a child then as compared to today. Jane said, "I think children are missing so much now. How much fun we had! There was no organized baseball, no organized anything else at that time.


We lived across the street from the grade school, and they had a nice big playground there. May Downs and Harold Gleason and the Swanson bays and a number of girls would go over to the playground in the late afternoon or evening and play. We would play Prisoners' Base, and we would fight and yell and argue -- we had no umpire or referee. We had a good time there, a wonderful time until someone would get mad and go home. And we would play until our parents came out and yelled at us to come home.


"We'd play cowboys and Indians, too. I think the children had fun by themselves. We had other games besides Prisoners' Base." In answer to a question about social life in high school, Jane replied, "One thing about high school: the rules were stricter than they are today. There was no smoking and no dancing, but there was a senior play, and they had social dancing in that. There was very little dating. Certainly there wasn't any hugging and kissing each other in the school. There were more get-togethers, but no prom." After high school, Jane got her further education piecemeal, because she had to earn a little bit. "I can't remember when I didn't want to teach," Jane recalled, "but there was no chance at college. I knew that, and I accepted it. Instead of taking a college preparatory course, I look business.


I worked one year after I got out of school as secretary in the high school office. Then I just quit. My father kept after me to get some work. A friend, Erma Richards, who had gotten a job at the Wagner School called me up one night and asked if I would substitute for her -- she said she was sick and just couldn't go. I said I would, and I took the "third rail" out to Wagner Road and walked the half mile or more to the school. I had about twelve kids, and I got along that day all right. There were eight grades i  the school, but I didn't have any first or eighth graders.


Evelyn Pahnke Wall was one of the students. "I called Erma that night, and she said that she was not going back. So I went back, and the trustees came, one of whom was Mr. Schimelpfenig. They talked to me and said it would be all right if I would continue at $75 per month; then I could take the exams. I didn't have any idea what the exams were about, and I failed them. If I hadn't failed, I would probably not have had my next year at college. I went to Wheaton College for a year and got my second grade certificate." After teaching at Yorkville, where I earned $100 per month and roomed and boarded on a farm, and another year at Wheaton College, Jane came to a school on Hart Road and what is now called State Road where she taught for three years. "To get to school," she said, "I walked from our house on what is now Lincoln Street to Shaw's store on the corner of Wilson and River streets.


Then I would ride to school with Adam Paine, the brother of one of the trustees, who was a farmer and came into town every morning to deliver milk. To get home at night, I would walk from the school down to the third rail stop where I'd wait by the service shack until the train arrived. I don't remember how many students they had there, not very many, but quite a motley crew in a way. You can't be a reacher and not have some trouble, but I didn't have any serious trouble. "By 1929 I had a full two years of college, which gave me an associate's degree, so I applied at the Batavia schools. Mr. Storm and Mr. Carr came to talk to me and decided to hire me. I was really lucky because, with my experience, I began at $1 ,200 per year whereas beginning teachers were getting just $1 ,000; however, Dr. Storm wanted me to go over to DeKalb that summer to take some classes.


"I was hired at the Grace McWayne School and started as an overflow teacher; whenever there was an overflow of pupils in one grade, I would get a part of that grade for one day. I might start out in the morning with a reading class of fourth graders, and later on I might have an arithmetic class of fifth graders, or I might have a language class of seventh graders. Bert Johnson was in sixth grade at the time, and he remembers having Jane as a teacher, probably in one of those overflow periods . With respect to behavior, Jane recalls, "I don't remember having any problems with any of the children -- well, yes I did have a boy in seventh grade who got into some family trouble and stole my keys. But students were better behaved in those days and showed more respect for the teachers, and the parents respected the teachers more, too.


The first year I taught I had some difficulty, but it was straightened out. There were two boys who would fight and scuffle, so I stood behind them one day and, when one of the boys acted up, I slapped him across the shoulders and he quieted down. About five minutes later the door opened, and the County Superintendent came in; he said that I had very good discipline in the class and that if I had to give a little corporal punishment at times, it was all right.

The following spring the kid I had disciplined gave me bouquet of yellow violets. 


In 1958, Jane married Frank Elwood, and she retired in 1960 after 30 years at the Grace McWayne School, some in the old building and some in the new. Principals she worked with included Arthur L. Carr, Frank Platt and Dale Winter. She and her husband took a trip around the world in 1962 in a freighter that carried twelve passengers. At age 95, Jane still lives in her own home, and is active in the Historical Society, where she volunteers at the Depot Museum, and in the Batavia United Methodist Church. where she has been a member all her life.


What's New At The Musum?


by Carla Hill, Director


This past summer has been a busy one for the museum. The completion of the Gustafson Research Center has really increased the museum's visibility in the community. The Research Center will be open Monday Wednesday, Friday and Sunday during the museum's regular open hours. We are looking for volunteers who would like to help out with staffing the center. We had a wonderful turnout for the Museum's 25th birthday celebration held on Sunday, August 20.


I would like to thank Barb and George Alexander and the Alexander family for their part in the celebration. Marilyn Robinson and I will be teaching a class on Researching and Preserving Family History. The three-session class is being offered Thursdays, October 5, 12 and 19, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Gustafson Research Center. The cost will be $35 and will include handouts and materials. Anyone interested in attending the class may register at the Batavia Park District. Space is limited to 16 participants.


This will be the last year for the sale of Christmas ornaments through the museum. This year's ornament, which will feature Batavia's windmills, will complete the collection of ten ornaments.


Plans are in the works for the Volunteer Christmas Lunch and Party. This is an annual event and will be held in early December. We are grateful to have such a wonderful group of dedicated volunteers, many of whom have been at the museum since it opened in 1975.



Papa's Big Horses and Dandy

Helen Bartelt Anderson


Growing up on a farm in 20s meant living with many different animals. Just about the greatest asset that dairy farmerscould have was their powerful draft horses. I would like to

tell you about Papa's big horses and where they lived. I cannot remember when Papa did not have the same four horses. They were large, with heavy, strong legs. Some farmers prided themselves in having matched teams, but Papa always said he was thankful to have big horses that worked well together. Coaly, coal black, lived in stall number 1.


She was my favorite. She whinnied every time I walked into her stall. I sometimes brought her a treat and petted her silky, black face. On the day that Papa fell from the top of a load of hay and lay unconscious on the ground, Coaly was my comfort. I ran into the barn and sobbed on Coaly's neck. She understood. Stall number 2 was home to Foxy. He was a beautiful chestnut color, with cream-colored mane and tail. He had tremendous strength. Foxy and Coaly were the oldest of the four horses and seemed like ma and pa to the rest of the farmyard. Dick was in stall number 3. He, along with Foxy, made a powerful team. He was a bay (red), with black mane and tail. He was a good horse.


Those three horses were about the same size. In stall number 4, Chuck was different. He was a buckskin with sleek golden hair. His mane and tail were the color of ivory. Papa said he was part Arabian. The other three had hair that in cold weather was heavy and furry. Chuck was slim and muscular. If Papa needed to get down to the woods to checkon a newborn calf or fix a broken wire in a fence, he would hop on Chuck's back and get where he wanted to go in a hurry. I never was real friendly with Chuck, nor Dick. Coaly and Foxy were so lovable. Although these four horses were the mainstay of Papa's work force, the horse barn had one other resident -- our pony, Dandy. He slept in stall vol_41_28.jpgnumber 5, actually a fairly large box stall.



Dandy's disposition was anything but perfect. He was temperamental, and he showed it if things didn't go his way, I do believe the horses and our dog, Teddy, teased him. Maybe Roger and I would take him out of his stall and start putting his harness on, to hitch him to his buggy. Then Teddy would start barking and Dandy would kick, trying to hit Teddy; it would go on and on, sometimes having to be settled by Papa or Uncle Charlie. Dandy was black, with long bushy hair, Shetland pony style. He was also plump and lazy. Many times, after much coaxing, Dandy would pull Roger and me in the buggy to our neighbor's farm to play with Pete and Margaret Konen and take them for a

little ride. Dandy did not like to go away from home, probably worried about getting back for food. When it was timefor us to go home, Dandy was alert and headed in the right direction.


He would trot all the way home. The horse barn was a very large old building, with a hayloft above. A lean-to on the north side was home to the pigs. A long feeding trough on the north wall of the horse barn stretched the whole length of the barn, in front of the horse sta lls. Each stall had a wooden box nailed inside the trough for oats and corn. Openings inthe ceiling allowed the farmer to throw hay from the loft down into the feeding trough of each stall. Anyone walking in the hayloft could, unknowingly, also drop into the feeding trough. My cousin David did when he and Roger were playing basketball in the loft. The hayloft was part-timehome to one of Mama's wayward chickens.


She was a Foxy and Coaly hen who insisted on hiding her nest in the hayloft. Her ability to produce fine, white eggs was the only thing that kept her from the chopping block. She so ignored the other hens that she sometimess lept highup in one of ourwalnut trees. vol_41_29.jpgIt was my job to check on the whereabouts of her nest and rescue eggs. In order to get up to the hayloft, it was necessary to climb up a makeshift ladder, made by nailing short boards to the side of the barn on the pigpen side. I didn't mind climbing up, but climbing down was a bit too scary. Instead, I carried the two or three eggs in a little basket and slid down into Coaly's feed trough. Coalydidn't mind . Most of the eggs made it safely, too.


The horse barn was a friendly, happy place. Harnesses adorned the south wall. Under the harnesses was a line of feedbags that made comfortable seats for a rainy afternoon. It was a place where a hired man would sit and receive instructions for the day, or neighbors would drop in and enjoy a chat. Roger and I enjoyed listening in. When we were there, the men were careful not to tell off-color jokes or swear to express their feelings. These are some of the everyday events of so long ago that are the memories we love to relive in our minds today.




Were Barney Vermilyer and Charles B. VermilYer the Same Person?

The Answer Found in the Depot Museum



Recent Depot Museum visitors from California, Jim and Wilma Vermilyer, have sent us a letter that ties up some loose ends of an 1869 "disgraceful occurrence" in Batavia that was originally reported in the February 4, 1869, Aurora Beacon. The incident was retold by Marilyn Robinson in the Windmill Herald, June 24, 1992, and by Bill Wood in the January 1996 issue of The Batavia Historian. The Vermilyers were happily able to complete the story, and their genealogical search, on the basis of court documents they reviewed at the museum. The Barnabas (or Barney) Vermilyar family, flving in early 1869 in Batavia, at Washington and Church, included Barnabas' wife, Mary, and son James, 26, daughter Emma, 21, son George, 18, and daughter Viola, 6. A Mrs. Harriet Keller Roath, age 26,and her seven year old son also lived with Vermilyer family, presumably as boarders.


According to the Beacon, a party of low-downers, headed by a Bill Nooks [or Noakes], went to the house of Barney Vermilyea [an alternate spelling of the family name] for the purpose of applying tar and feathers to [Barney's] person. Barney armed himself with sundry revolvers, shot guns and other deadly weapons, and hid in the cellar. Nooks' party broke into the house, frightened a woman living there into spasms, and ransacked the premises from top to bottom, appropriating some things that allegedly did not belong to them.


Not finding Vermilyea above, Nooks, with Cooney (Fran Moon), started down to the cellar, having a gun in his hands. Vermilyea fired three shots at him, one passing through his groin, making a dangerous wound. Upon the fat of their valiant leader, the rest of the group made a hasty charge away from there that made Sheridan's celebrated ride seem slow in comparison. They stood not upon the order of their going but went as if the devil was after them."


The newspaper account gave no hint of what might have given riseto this disgraceful occurrence," but the likely cause can be deduced from informationin a court document in the subsequent divorce of Barnabas and his wife, Mary. In February, 1869, Mary claimed, she had asked Barnabas to go with her to visit their daughter in Aurora. He declined, claiming he had business in another direction. Even after his plans fell through, he still declined going to Aurora with Mary. Mary left in the wagon. The wagon broke down so she was forced to return home. When she approached the house, she heard rustting inside. Then she saw Harriet Roath, the boarder, climbing out of the window! She went inside and asked Barnabas why Harriet felt a need to leave by way of the window. Barnabas had no explanation.


In the same court document, however, George W. Vermilyer, then age 19, stated that on one occasion he saw his father, Barnabas, dancing with Harriet, holding hands and going into a bedroom at 2 a.m., then turning out the lights. It was later in February that Barnabas and Harriet reportedly "eloped" and left the state. Jim and Wilma had long been searching for his Vermilyer roots in Indiana where an elderly Lewis Vermilyer had a chart showing his grandfather as Charles B. Vermilyer. He had heard stories that Charles B. had been married before to someone named Mary and had two boys. Presumably this was Barnabas, as suggested by the middle initial of Charles B., but they needed more evidence. Lewis took them out to several cemeteries in the LaPorte area, showing them many stones with the name Vermilyer, including ones for Charles B. and Harriet Vermilyer, apparently the former Harriet Roath with whom Barnabas had "eloped" from Batavia. The needed evidence was found in the Depot Museum.


In a 1907 Kane County court action to clear title to property that had earlier been sold by the divorced Mary Vermilyer, the list of heirs to Barnabas Vermilyer included George Vermilyer and Viola Jones, children of Barnabas and Mary; the children of James, eldest son of Barnabas and Mary; Hattie Vermilyer, the former Harriet Roath; and several children of Barnabas and Harriet. This satisfied Jim and Wilma that they had the evidence they needed: Barnabas Vermilyer and Charles B. Vermilyer were one and the same, Jim's ancestor for whom they had been searching. Afterwards Jim and Wilma wrote an article for the Vermilyea Association in which they referred to their visit here as follows: "Batavia Historical Society is a 'gold mine of information.' We were on a rather tight schedule. They have a new research room ready to open in June. We were therein May. They offered to let us go intotheir attic, showed us how to use the index, and within minutes we were holding in our hands a divorce document dated 1870, and hand written. By now it was closing time! They were kind enough not to ask us to leave, but we felt we should let them go home after all, they are volunteers. I asked if we could come back. They were not supposed to open again for several days. We would be in Indiana by then! A very gracious woman named Carla Hill offered to open for us the very next day. All without charge! We of course left a donation! What wonderful people!" This is an excellent example the use to which Batavians and others will beable to make of the new Gustafson Research Center.



Depot Museum Not for Batavians Alone!


As our volunteers are well aware, visitors to the Depot Museum are not limited to Batavians -- far from it. Our visitors, many of whom are former Batavians or friends or relatives of Batavians, come from all corners of the world. Last year, people from 109 other Illinois cities and towns registered as guests of the museum. As would be expected, many came from our

neighboring communities, but they also hailed from places as diverse as Chicago, on the one hand, to small towns with names that might be unfamiliar to many of our readers ..

Visitors came from 36 states other than Illinois. California had the greatest number of communities represented -- 13.


Many guests, of course, came from the nearby states of Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin. From outside the United States, we had visitors from 14 countries. Surprisingly, none came from our neighboring countries, Canada and Mexico, or from Great Britain; but it will surprise no one that we had visitors from Sweden, as well as Denmark and Norway. Somewhere, no doubt, in some remote area of the world, a person can be found wearing a Batavia Depot Museum cap!


Growing Up during the Depression

Charles Beckman

As Told at the Heritage Roundtable -- April 11, 2000


I remember that my dad worked down at Sperry's in North Aurora. He had gone in three days in a row to get a job, and they said they didn't have any work. On the third day, he asked about the three railroad cars they had sitting there, loaded with lumber. They told him that if he could unload those cars in a couple of days, he could have a job. He worked and worked, and he got it done. Then they asked him what the numbers were on the cars, and he told them the numbers. They said that he couldn't remember the numbers like that, but my dad told them that those were thenumbers on the cars. They checked the cars, and the numbers were right,so they told him he had a job. He worked there for twenty-seven years.


Before I was born, Dad took half a day off to go up to the courthouse to get his marriage license. And they were upset. You just didn't take a half a day off. That's how bad it was in those days. And I can remember the Larsons over on Morton Street. Ollie worked half a day at Sperry's, and he'd take a lunch because he didn't know if he would have to work all day or not. When they came home, Ollie would give my dad what he had in his lunch, and my dad brought it home to us. Boy, you talk about a treat Twinkies and coffee bread and cookies and an orange. We never had that stuff at home unless we got it from the neighbors. When school let out after third grade, we went home and our shoes came off. We went barefoot. The only time we wore shoes was when we went to Sunday School. We lived in the river we used to stay in it all the time.


We'd drag the bottom, and we'd swim and we'd swim around with the fish, bullheads and everything. We'd be gone all day and come home at night. I remember Ernest Courtright had a hobby shop up over Guy's Garage. We'd go up there and use pieces of apple boxes, etc., and we'd use a band saw or coping saw. He'd teach us how trace and cut and glue, and we had a wonderful time. The opportunity that you have and what you've made of it means a lot. I remember the jobs I've had such as washing dishes for fifty cents and a dinner. I never felt that I was poor, although I was. I had paper in my shoes, and we glued the rubber soles on our shoes. But I just feel so blessed. We have so much, and especially right here in the Fox Valley.


These remarks were transcribed from video tape by Elliott Lundberg


Membership Matters


Since the last issue, Ronald and Barbara Dickenson, John Gamble, Alfred Morfee, Jr. (Delray Beach, FL), Bob and Sue Peterson, and James and Wilma Vermilyer (San Juan Bautista, CA, some of whom were previously annual members, have become life members. Other new members (from Batavia unless otherwise noted) include Mike and Michele Albers, Lucille Anderson, Charles C. Brewer (Washington, D. C.), Jeff and Mel Brown, Bob Clever (Mashpee, MA), Eleanor Goers (Henry, IL. Jeanne Jones (Chicago), John H. Markuson, Mrs. Edward Keyes (Detroit, MI), W. B. Limbaugh (Palm Harbor, FL), Kay McCampbell (Shaker Heights, OH), Steve and Britta McKenna, Deborah Mobley (New Port Richey, FL), Marcheta Allen Mines (Oakland, CAl, Ann Nitkey, Kathy McCampbell Vance (Washington, D. C.), Mr. and Mrs. John R. Waterfield, Paul and Pam Wieland, and Ruth Ann Wroldsen (Geneva). We welcome these new members and look forwardto their participation in the activities of the society. With deep regret, we report the death of long-time member Elizabeth Hall.


We recently received an additional $500 contribution from the Hansen-Furnas Foundation. We also have received additional contributions for furnishing the Gustafson Research Center from Margaret J. Anderson (Pinckney, MI), together with Mr. and Mrs. Jack Bisanz (Gaylord, Mil, Mr. and Mrs. John Gibson (Pinconning, MI), Dr. and Mrs. Jeff Hemp (Mapleton, IL), Dr. Christine Love (Brighton, MI), Dr. and Mrs. Joel Mossberg (Venice, FL), Mr. and Mrs. James Mulholland (Hale, MI), Carl Nelson, Mrs. Emma Nystrom, and Mr. and Mrs. Walter Peterson (Kenosha, WI), $200 in memory of Chester "Art" Anderson; Cliff and Royce Clifford (Encinitas, CAl, $200 in memory of John S. Hedges, Company I, 42nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry (Civil War); George and Kathryn Fairbairn, $500;Robert and Lois French, $25; Mary and Jerry Harris, $500; Deborah Mobley, $50; Rod and Clara Ross (Washington, D. C.), $200 in memory of Dr. Edward Ross; and Robert J. and Toos S. Warfel.


Many thanks to these generous contributors.