THE BATAVIA HISTORIAN

Volume Forty-Two

No. 4

October 2001

 


Carl Furnas ... And the Company He Built

Part 1: The Early Years

 

The Furnas Electric Company, for years Batavia's largest employer, and the company's founder, Carl Furnas and his wife, Leto, played an important part in the life and growth of Batavia. After the deaths of Carl and Leto, their role was carried on by their grandson, Richard W. Hansen. The influence of the family is still felt in many ways, including thevol43Num_6.jpg

continuing contributions of the Hansen-Furnas Foundation to worthwhile causes in our community.

 

This first part of the story of Carl Furnas and the company he built is based on information in Carl's biography. "In the typical American success story the words are by Alger and the red, white and blue music is by Sousa. This isn't that kind of story. Our man didn't fit this mold. He was 45 before he got around to starting his own firm, and in the next 25 years he didn't amass a fortune or build an empire. His greatness lay in character traits which are in short supply today.

 

"In a sense Carl Furnas was truly one of a vanishing breed. He insisted on going his own way. He did it at a time when every visible claim was staked out. He did it when the American economy was 'mature' -- so mature, in fact, that Frederick Turner's frontier was covered with concrete and asphalt. This, after all, was 1931, the gray time of hope deferred. It was no time to borrow on your insurance and into business. Carl Furnas did.

 

"To those who remember the smokeless chimneys and bread lines, the sheer, glorious gall of the act is a thing of shining wonder ..." These words from the introduction to the biography of the late William Carlyle ("Carl") Furnas, published shortly after his death, set the stage, for the story that follows. The life of Carl Furnas began with his birth, on September 27, 1886, to) Henry and Louise Furnas in Edinburg, Indiana.

 

But in a real sense, the story begins with his devout Methodist, enterprising Furnas and Runkle forebears who had come to Indiana from Ohio shortly after the Civil War. It was they who instilled in young Carl the integrity, the discipline and the work ethic that guided him throughout his business career and his personal life. And it was the nurturing of a closeknit, extended family that gave him the sense of security that made possible his later willingness to incur risks in pursuing his goals.

 

As a boy, Carl spent whatever free time he could find during one period working with his cousin Fred on an electric motor that Fred had developed. He was curious about what made things work, especially when electricity was involved. One can see the direction that his future life would take from the address that he gave at his high school commencement, "Nature's Greatest Wizard" -- electricity.

 

This clearly foreshadowed his decision to go to Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, in 1905 to study electrical engineering. Seeking money in the summer of 1907 to see him through his last year Carl Furnas as assistant works manager at Allis-Chalmers at Purdue, Carl took a job as motorman on the Wabash Valley Traction Company between Lafayette and Fort Wayne. Although he was earning only sixteen cents an hour and working a split shift to boot, he wrote exuberantly of the experience: "Friday night it was raining to beat the band and dark as pitch and it was quite a thrilling experience running a fast car back, making up five minutes and the road is as crooked as a snake. I like the job real well. I have not learned all the lines yet but I will likely have to run a car this afternoon to the park as the traffic out there is very great."

 

Since jobs were scarce when Carl graduated from Purdue in 1908, he was glad to return to the Wabash Valley Traction Company. Besides, because it relied on electricity for its operation, he felt that association with this business furthered his career goals. And it turned out there was an unexpected bonus -- a young lady passenger who boarded the train to go to her job as a dental assistant was Leto Webb.

 

By 1910 when Carl left for a new job in West Allis, Wisconsin, it was clear that the two would marry. In the fall of 1909, Carl sought a job with theMilwaukee Control Company but was rejected because, as he put it, "They said that I would never be any good in the control business." How ironic an evaluation of a man who was destined to build a career and a company on the basis of controls! It reminds one of the teacher who thought that Thomas Edison would never succeed in anything. But even though Carl did not get the job he was seeking, the trip to Milwaukee was not a failure. It gave him the opportunity to contact Purdue alumnus Bill Motter, an electrical engineer with Allis-Chalmers; this led to Carl's getting a job with that company in January of 1910 at seventeen cents an hour. And on September 27,1910 -- Furnas' 24th birthday -- he and Leto Webb were married in Ft. Wayne's First Methodist Church.

 

While at Allis-Chalmers, Carl's primary interest was focused on controlling the speed of small machines. The many innovations he introduced included a high-speed punch press capable of stamping out 600 stator slots every minute; a unique periscope for checking material defects after turbine holes had been bored; a method of milling the ends of copper armature bars so they could be welded prior to installation in a-c motors; a machine for metering exact lengths of coiled wire in the shop; a portable oven for baking motor windings; and a pat ented control for a reversing 25-foot planer.

 

vol43Num_7.jpgThe biography cited above succinctly characterizes Carl's 21-year career at Allis Chalmers in the following words: From 1919 until 1931 Carl Furnas would consistently pursue the promise of an inventive rainbow at Allis-Chalmers. In the process he would also rise to become assistant works manager under William Watson. But as he made the climb, discerning fellow workmen ... could sense a basic lack, a constant rebellion against corporate protocol.

 

Carl Furnas had to be free to prowl the aisles at Allis-Chalmers; he had to be on the loose, forever in search of better methods and better machines. During this period, the Furnases enjoyed a happy family life. In 1913, daughter Helen was born. Many happy weekends were spent heading south to Montgomery, Illinois, where they visited with uncle Cyrus Furnas and his family.

 

In particular, Carl welcomed a chance to talk about current industrial practices with his cousin Dan Furnas, one of the founders of Aurora Steel Products. Everything changed, and abruptly. In the fall of 1931. As George Cooper, one of Carl's close associates at Allis-Chalmers, recalled, "It was Wednesday and we decided to walk to work that day. We were going down Greenfield Avenue but instead of heading for the entrance we always used Carl told me he was going to stop in the office for a minute and that he would be down to see me a little later in the morning.

 

Sure enough, a little while later Carl came up to me with a big smile on his face and told me he had just quit his job:' What an unheard of thing -- quitting a $10,000 a year job in the depths of the Great Depression! That was roughly equivalent to $100,000 today. But it was not a surprise to Leto, who later said, "I could sense the longing in Carl. He didn't feel that he could sacrifice a good job at Allis-Chalmers while his mother was alive, but I knew he was itching to go into business for himself.

 

From boyhood, this was always his dream. When Carl left Allis-Chalmers in September of 1931, he had an incomplete invention on his hands and $10,000 in the bank, and his house was mortgage-free. Leto's and his house became the manufacturing plant of the new Furnas Electric Conpany. A promising young hockey player, Eddie Kampa, who was also an accomplished electrical man, became his first employee.

 

Operations were primarily in the basement, but they frequently overflowed into the rest of the house, with Leto's approval and with her and daughter Helen's active participation. Whether they date back to the company's beginnings or not, people at the Furnas Electric Company in its early years frequently refer to events that happened "in the basement."

 

The drum controller was the company's real beginning. A drum controller was a manual switch used for starting, stopping and reversing industrial-size motors by changing the flow of current by internal contact points. While the drum switch developed by Carl was not a new idea, his product was significantly more compact and, most importantly, less expensive than the then-available products.

 

To herald its advent in 1932, Leto and Carl decided to send out 100 post cards to manufacturers. In the responses, a Lathe Company asked if Carl would come to South Bend and demonstrate. As Carl's biography puts it, "He would, he did and that's how Furnas Electric Company made its first sale." It was during the West Allis years that a young musician named Gilbert Hansen was dating the Furnases' daughter. Although his family owned the nationally known Modern Engineering Company in Milwaukee, Gilbert wanted to make it on his own -as a musician. As Carl Furnas later put it, "Gilbert played in a band, but he was also a brilliant mechanic.

 

After a while he seemed more interested in working on drum controllers than in playing in the band. Before long, I had a very able assistant in the shop." And Gilbert's interest was not just in controllers: it was not long before he and Helen Furnas fell in love and eloped to get married in Rockford.

 

The company grew slowly but surely. In 1937, according to Carl's biography, he "was just beginning to assemble the industrial team that would stay with him until his death a quarter of a century later. In the beginning his interest in church work and youth combined to serve as a kind of labor pool. Times were hard in West Allis and the young men he recruited were usually students in his bible classes at the First Methodist Church in West Allis.

 

One by one they made their appearance, John Blass, Gerry Robinson, Lee Dungey, Art Wendland -- most of them coming shortly after Carl rented 3500 square feet of space in the Federal Malleable plant in West Allis in 1934.

 

By 1937, annual sales had climbed to approximately $40,000, and the company had 30 employees. The break-through came in 1938 with the introduction of the Gilbert Hansen designed G-Series pressure switch. Montgomery Ward's Hummer Division had been searching for a trouble-free pressure switch for its popular line of water pumps, and Carl and veteran salesman Roy Baur drove to Springfield to show them the "G."

 

After checking the connections and basic design, Hummer's chief engineer told his purchasing agent that he'd like to use some of those switches. The purchasing agent then told Carl that he would like to buy 16,000 of the units if the two firms could agree on price. Carl told him that he could give them a price after lunch; after some furious noon-time figuring, Carl and Roy gave Hummer the figure and got the order. This put the company into volume manufacturing as the innovative pressure switch was quickly adopted by the water pump industry across the country.

 

1. Lorz, Robert; Shadow of a Man: Furnas Electric Company, Batavia, IL; 1964

 

(To be continued with the move to Batavia in the next issue.)


 

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Museum to Expand with Generous Help from Quarry Stone

Pond Developers, Kane County Board and Dennis Kintop

 

As those of our readers who live in .. Batavia probably know, Richard (Rick) Eckblade and John Pitz, both members of the society, are working on a condominium project, known as Quarry Stone Pond, just north of the Depot Museum. In developing their plans for this project, Eckblade and Pitz offered to donate to the society approximately 2,000 square feet of space for museum use.

 

The space, to be built at an estimated cost of $250,000, will be a rotunda, built at the south end of the project, as shown in the accompanying picture. Economic conditions and unexpected events such as the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon pose an unusual degree of uncertainty for new projects of all kinds, but especially for real estate developments.

 

Rick and John have pointed out that, even though site preparation has begun, they cannot say at this time when actual construction will begin and be completed. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the society -- and the uncertainty regarding timing certainly does not change that since our need for the space this will provide is longterm, not immediate. Although we and the Batavia Park District, with the help of the State of Illinois and Kane County, have recently added the Gustafson Research Center, we have foreseen an increasing need for display space, and there had appeared to be few opportunities for expanding the Depot Museum or obtaining usable space nearby. vol43Num_8.jpgBecause the entrance to the rotunda will be immediately north of the present caboose and Coffin bank, the new space will provide a unique fit for our needs.

 

Most of the history now on display at the Depot Museum ends with World War II, and much has continued to happen since then. Batavia has a rich industrial history, only certain aspects of which are featured in current displays.

 

The society's board of directors and Carla Hill, director of the museum, therefore plan to use the new space to create a museum for Batavia's industrial history. Other than for utility lead-ins and sprinklers, the structure that we are to be given will consist of bare walls, roof and floor and will need to be finished before it can be used. Dennis Kintop, president of M.I.C., Inc., the contractor that built the Gustafson Center, has estimated that the cost of the build-out will be $122,600. Exhibit preparation will cost an estimated additional $75,000.

 

To defray these costs, the Kane County Board of Supervisors has granted the society $125,100 from its riverboat funds; Dennis Kintop has offered to waive M.I.C.'s supervision fee of $16,000 included in the estimated build-out cost; and the society will cover the remaining cost of $56,500 out of its special project funds.

 

We are most grateful to Rick Eckblade and John Pitz; to the Kane County Board, especially the members from our area, Doug Weigand and Jim Martin, who actively supported our request; and to Dennis Kintop, all of whom are helping to make our dream of an expanded museum come true.


 

Reader's Corner

 

Rod Ross, whose address on Memorial Day appeared in the last issue, wrote: "Your July issue provided documentary evidence that Sheila Tierney Stroup as a college English major and I as a college history major each, in a way, fulfilled our predestined career lots in life. The last time our names appeared together in print was in June 1961 for the Batavia High School graduation program, with me giving the salutatorian's address and Sheila giving the valedictorian's address." Marilyn Robinson wrote: "The question of where is Potter's Field in the East Batavia Cemetery comes up now and then and no one seems to know for sure.

 

This item I found in the Batavia Herald of May 9, 1900, seems to furnish the answer. 'The East Batavia Cemetery Association have very generously donated a lot 17 and 1/2 x 12 for the burial of Old Soldiers, who hold no family lots. It is in No. 270 in the southeast part of the cemetery. The Old Soldiers of Batavia desire to express their heartfelt thanks for this kind and generous donation. There are now the remains of two old soldiers lying in the Potter's Field, and thus we see the benefit of the new lot above referred to.' "It is too bad the names of the two civil war veterans already buried in what became Potter's Field were not given. Perhaps I'll run across them sometime when I'm again looking for something else."

 


 

A Plea from Carole Dunn

Hey Hungry Historians --

As you prepare your favorite dish for our December meeting potluck, please write down the recipe on the bottom of this sheet. Bring it to the December meeting. Don't forget! I know you'll do it, so I'm thanking you now.

Carole

 

Oops! Sorry, Sheila

We'll never know how Sheila Tierney Stroup's first name got changed to Sharon in the headline for her column that we reprinted from the New Orleans Times-Picayune in the last issue. We are truly sorry, particularly as this issue was sent to her fellow members of the class of 1961, which recently held its 40th reunion. We have other columns that Sheila has written that deal with seasonal topics and her life in Batavia. We hope to use them at appropriate times and promise to see that they carry the right name.

 


School Names Recognize

Great Leaders in Batavia Education

 

District 101 announced the names of its two new elementary schools, one on the west side and one on the east side, and its transplanted administrative center. The nominations had been made by a committee of parents and teachers.

 

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The new west side school, located near Deerpath Road and Main Street, has been named the Grace McWayne School; it is the third school building to bear the McWayne name. The first two were in the same location, on Wilson Street between Batavia Avenue and Lincoln Street. The old Central School, which had been built in 1867for $27,100, had been renamed the Grace McWayne School to honor its long-time principal.

 

In 1950 that school building was razed to make way for a modern facility, this time bearing only the McWayne name to honor both Grace and her sister, Ellen, who taught in Batavia for 40 years. Earlier this year the school that was built in 1950 was closed for the last time (it had been closed once before and then reopened).

 

Grace McWayne began teaching in Batavia in 1868 at the age of 21, the start of a career that spanned 59 years. As described in John Gustafson's Historic Batavia, "It is difficult to measure the influence of a single individual, but Batavians believed that she was the first lady of their city. Each year she would meet children of the factory workers and children of the industrialists, children of the native-born and children of the foreign-born, perhaps fifty of them at a time.

 

She taught one group of youngsters, then their sisters and brothers, then their children, and then their grandchildren. Hers was a production line whose output could never be evaluated by an inventory, for she shared with her pupils her gentleness, her wit, her human kindliness, her eternal youthfulness, her technical knowledge of modern pedagogical practices, and her brilliance."

 

In its report to the school board, the committee on school names wrote: "Upon completing the 50th year of teaching in 1918, the whole community held a celebration in Grace McWayne's honor. A prominent businessman at the time said: 'Everyone in town contributed his bit. Some maybe could spare only a nickel; one gave a hundred dollars; it was a spontaneous contribution and nobody turned the committee down.

 

There were about 6,000 residents and we garnered $2,000. Even in the poorest section of town where it is almost impossible to make a successful drive of any kind, every last family contributed something to the fund. The name of everyone who gave was signed in a book.

 

One man whose contribution had been most generous remarked, "She has done more than any ten men who ever lived in Batavia'" "The $2,000 she received was about double her yearly salary. Miss McWayne graciously accepted the gift but later gave the money to the Board of Education to fund the building of tennis courts at the athletic field in Batavia (now known as Memorial Park). She decided on tennis courts because she said, 'It would be something for the children to enjoy for many years.'' Grace McWayne died in 1940 at the age of 92.

 

The new east side school is the Hoover-Wood School, named to honor the contributions of two of Batavia's outstanding teachers. It is located on Wagner Road. As the committee reported in recommending the name to the school board, "Eldora Hoover was more than one of Batavia's finest teachers. Former Illinois Education Association President Woody Lee said upon naming her Humanitarian of the Year, 'In her community, she is an institution.'

 

He praised her for devoting time, energy, and money toward helping children and adults in minority groups and the mentally handicapped that need extra attention and personalized instruction. Her forty years of teaching in Batavia began in 1915, the year she graduated from high school. She started teaching at the Wagner school, a small house on Giese Road that is still standing. She moved on to a one-room schoolhouse on Bliss Road before teaching in Warrenville, Downer's Grove and back in Batavia in 1944. Mrs. Hoover continued teaching in Batavia at the old and new McWayne School and then at Alice Gustafson until her retirement in 1964." vol_42_7.jpg

 

Mrs. Hoover's activities were legion: they included serving on Batavia's Human Relations Commission, serving as a substitute teacher after her retirement, serving as an early president of the American Field Service Committee, and, perhaps most important of all, tutoring children at her home and at the J. B. Nelson and Alice Gustafson schools.

 

She gave one day per month to the Head Start program for the tri-cities, and she helped children at Batavia's Trinity Chapel Church of God in Christ learn to read so they could be educated about the Bible. As the staff and students at Trinity Chapel said in a letter recommending Mrs. Hoover for Citizen of the Year in 1970, "Her work has resulted in improved reading scores and general improvement in school work.

 

Her sacrifice was unfailing during even the coldest part of the year. She is a piercing example of humanitarianism and Christian endeavor. She has a compassionate hand for the poor, a rare sensitivity for work among the unlearned, the hard core, and those of narrow cultural experience. Her heart and hand go out to the poor wherever she finds them."That year Mrs. Hoover was named Batavia Citizen of the Year.

 

She died in 1984. It is fitting indeed that Eldora Hoover shares the name of the new school with her "foster" son, William J. Wood.

 

They met before World War II while both were teaching in Downer's Grove. As Bill put it, "She and her husband, Arthur, had a history of taking in the lost and strayed." After he and a friend, Bill Favero, returned from military service, they came to work in Batavia. Mrs. Hoover felt sorry for the two young men and opened her house to them.

 

Bill still lives in that same house on Washington Street that he shared with her for many years both before and after Arthur's death. Although never legally adopted, Bill always referred to Eldora Hoover as "Mom." As the committee reported to the school board, "Adored and loved by so many, William Wood was one of the most popular picks for the new east side school's namesake. But Mr. Wood, being as humble as he is kind and considerate, would not hear of it unless his beloved foster mother's name came before his." From age six, Bill had dreamed of being teacher, a dream that took form in 1945 in Batavia when he took over for another teacher at the old Louise White School.

 

In 1955, he was named principal of the J. B. Nelson School. He remained principal there until his retirement in 1976, except for three years when he returned to the classroom as a teacher and one year when he taught fourth grade at a U. S. Air Force Base in Japan. As principal of J. B. Nelson School, Bill Wood was so loved by his students that one sixth-grade class petitioned the city council to name a block-long street near the school in honor of their principal.

 

The alderman concurred, and today William Wood Lane runs in front of the school. Much as Bill enjoyed the stint in Japan and his travels that have twice taken him around the world, it has always been to Batavia that he longed to return. "This is home," he said. "The people here have become my family. I have a strong feeling that Batavia has given me so much that there is no way I can ever repay." In 1976 Bill Wood was named Batavia's Citizen of the Year, making him and Eldora Hoover the only mother and son duo to be so named. They are also the only mother and son In Batavia to both have streets named after them. And, as Mayor Schielke said when he declared September 10, 2000, Bill's 80th birthday, to be William J. Wood Day in Batavia, "Bill Wood's life has revolved around the children of our city.

 

Consider all the lights of creative spirit he has kindled throughout his career. Doing this we know that Batavia is a much brighter place because Bill Wood chose to share his life with us." Bill is a member of the Batavia Historical Society's board of directors and has served for many years as its Historian.

 

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Finally, the Board Education took a signal step at its June 26,2001, meeting by naming the new headquarters that it will occupy after the library moves into its new building, the Rosalie Jones Administrative Center. Rosalie Jones served on the Batavia Board of Education for 22 years, missing only three meetings since her first election to the Board in 1979. She served 8 years as Board President and before that an additional eight years as the Board Vice-President.

 

As the committee reported, "For the last quarter of the 20th century, Rosalie Jones has been the eyes, ears, voice and heart of the Batavia Public Schools. She has generously, tirelessly and. without compensatio volunteered countless hours of time and effort to serve Batavia School District 101, its Board of Education and the children, parents, taxpayers and teachers of the district." To quote again from the committee report: "Rosalie Jones has served in leadership roles on numerous local and state educational boards She is a founding member of the Batavia Foundation for Educational Excellence and the Batavia PTO Council.

 

She has served as a Division Officer for the Kishwaukee Division of School Boards and has served on the Board of Directors for the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), She also served on the the IASB Legislative Committee and as a Delegate to the National Association of School Boards. In addition, Mrs. Jones has been a Director of the Northern Illinois Special Education Cooperative and Treasurer of the Illinois School District Agency, a property-casualty insurance agency for school districts. Rosalie is a member of the program committee of the Batavia Historical Society.

 


 

How Did Your Family Arrive? September 23 General Meeting

 

More than 80 members and guests had the privilege of hearing Marian Richter Schuetz of Naperville speak at the Society's September 23 meeting.

 

Her subject, "It Wasn't a Cruise Ship -Immigrant Voyages," described what it was like when our ancestors came to America. A number of people shared the experiences of their ancestors in the question and answer period that followed.

 

Prior to Ms. Schuetz's presentation, Bill Hall, chairman of the long-range planning committee, reviewed the tremendous financial support that the Society has received and is scheduled to receive in connection with the museum. He pointed out that the Gustafson Research Center, already familiar to our members, was financed in approximately equal amounts by the Society itself, the Batavia Park District, the State of Illinois and the Kane County Board from its Riverboat Funds.

 


 

Membership Matters

 

Since the last issue, Susan G. Duffy and Karen Bohr, both of Batavia, have become life menbers of the Society.

 

Other new members (from Batavia unless otherwise noted) include Marilyn K. Anderson, James and Sue Benson, Sol K. Carlson, Donald and Pauline Carlstedt, D. Harvey and Lois M. McClurg (Briggsville, WI), Robert L. Nelson (Ashland, OR), and Stan Tragarz and Kathy Carlson. Rod and Clara Ross of Washington, DC, have given memberships to Connie Bond(Washington, DC), Josh Bond (Durham, NC), Terry Bond (Sunset Beach, NC), Phil Burnham (Washington, DC), and Bill Schmitz (Bowie, MD). William Byrnes of Carbondale, IL, has given a membership to Peg Ricks (Beavercreek, OH).

 

We welcome these new members and look forward to their participation in the activities of the society. With regret, we report the deaths of members Lucille Carlson, Pauline Mair Carlson and William Hamilton and extend our sympathy to the families and friends.

 

The Hansen-Furnas Foundation has given the Society $400 through Marilyn Robinson. We have also received monetary donations in memory of Evelyn D. Anderson from Alan N. and Julie M. Beckstrom and in memory of Lucille Stuttle from Elliott and Norma Lundberg. We wish to thank the donors for their support. He described the new museum space to be donated by Rick Eckblade and John Pitz and to be completed with a grant from the Kane County Riverboat Funds, a donation of services by Dennis Kintop, and money from the Society's special project fund, all as discussed more fully elsewhere in this issue. Special tribute was paid to our members on the Kane County Board, Doug Weigand and Jim Mitchell, who ably supported our request for the grants from the county.

 

Patty Rosenberg, chairman of the fund-raising committee acquainted the members with the purpose of th0 committee and some of the eventS under consideration. We thank program chairman Dick Benson and his committee for the outstanding programs they have been arranging for us. Carole Dunn played a major role in planning for this meeting. Others on the committee are Ruth Burnham, Rosalie Jones, Don Prindle and Patty Rosenberg.

 


 

 

Cliff's Turn

 

Helen Anderson, a writer beloved of all our readers, hasfavoredus over the yearswith her memories of growing up on afarm in BataviaTownship. Now she decided that it was time to let her husband of 64 years, Cliff, share some of his memories. She has written his story with the help of their son Jim.

 

At 7:30 a.m., young Clifford Anderson came down the stairs that led from the apartment above the Anderson Hardware store where he lived with his father and mother, Victor and Alma Anderson. He grabbed the very wide brush broom, went out the front door of the store, and swept the sidewalk clean from all the clutter of leaves and dirt from the previous day. Then he brought saleable items like garbage cans, rakes, shovels and hoes from the store. He placed them against the large windows to advertise some of their wares.

 

Next Clifford swept the brown linoleum-covered floor inside the store after he had sprinkled orange sweeping compound around to prevent dust from settling on the merchandise. Then picking up the feather duster, he quickly went over the surfaces of Philco radios, paint cans, Speed Queen washers, aluminum cookware, boxes of candles, and much more. This was the start of Clifford's daily activities at 67 S. Batavia Avenue (now 119 S. Batavia Avenue) in about 1929 and the early 1930s. Victor Anderson, having eaten his breakfast, descended those same stairs, looked north and south on Batavia Avenue and greeted neighboring merchants; then he spoke to his son, "Mother needs groceries."

 

Cliff proceeded to go to Dominic Perna's Fruit Store, which was two stores to the south. When he returned, he carried the bag of groceries upstairs to his mother, who was waiting to serve him breakfast. She had already eaten, so now she poured herself a second cup of coffee, relaxing in the big mahogany rocker that sat in their very large kitchen. vol_42_8.jpg

 

To the north of the hardware store, Burt N. Johnson (ed. note: father of our society's president, Bert L. Johnson) greeted the morning and neighboring merchants, then went back to work in the busy pharmacy that he and Glen Opfelt co-owned.

 

One of the big attractions at the drug store was the soda fountain and the candy counter. Sheehan's Radio and Electric Shop and Batavia Insurance Agency shared space in the store north of the drug store. Sheehan sold Majestic radios and electrical supplies. Connie Sheehan loved to play tricks on people and enjoyed even more telling about it.

 

Martin Nelson and sons, Bussy and Earl, occupied the next store to the north. Martin Nelson's plumbing business grew rapidly with two sons joining the firm. Earlier the Nelsons had shared space with Harry Frolich, a jeweler, who sold and repaired watches and clocks. Beyond that to the north was National Tea Co., a grocery chain store.

 

It was managed by Ellis Linder. It was not an uncommon thing to see Mrs. Linder and daughters Caroline and Helen helping out. Carlson's Texaco station was the last business going north before crossing First Street on the west side of Batavia Avenue.

 

Back at Anderson Hardware, Victor busied himself with glass and screen repairs, with the thought that it would soon be time to make stove and furnace pipes. Clifford did most of the deliveries, which left the store with no one to wait on the customers; however, a tapping on the water pipe brought Alma down from their apartment to fill in at the store.

 

People usually paid cash to Clifford for the articles he delivered. There was no extra charge for delivery and no sales tax at that time. Occasionally someone would say to Clifford, "Tell your dad I'll stop in the store and pay him some time; I'm a little short of cash today."

 

The nail counter at Anderson Hardware was the gathering place when other merchants or helpers had a break in their workday. It was easy to back up to the counter and pull yourself up for a 10-15 minute discussion about sports. At 10 a.m. each day, Victor would put on his well-worn cap and announce, "Well, I'm going." Then he would cross the street to join in the male gossip and fun at Alex and Eva's Coffee Shop.

 

There, a half dozen colleagues greeted him. Victor did not have to give his order to Eva -- she had already given him a cup of coffee and a piece of her good apple pie. Salesmen, truck drivers, and business people soon discovered that Alex and Eva's was the place to stop for a morning break. Those whose work took them from town to town were anxious to tell of goings-on in neighboring towns. Patrons of this little restaurant rarely left the shop without a broad smile on their lips. South from the hardware store was Mike Shomig's Crystal Barber Shop, another place where wild stories and bragging were enjoyed by patrons waiting for haircuts. Quite a few men came in because they had nothing else to do.

 

If they became rowdy, Mike would ask them to leave. Mike Shomig was a master of his trade. He spent extra time and care trimming the heads of special clients so that not a hair was out of place when they left Crystal Barber Shop. On the counter under the mirrored wall of the barbershop was a line of beautiful china shaving mugs. Each mug belonged to one of his clientele who stopped each morning for a shave and steamy hot towels to soften the bristles. A special signal was used by Mike Shomig to alert 12-year old Clifford that he was needed in the barbershop to shine a certain gentleman's shoes. This signal was accomplished by Mike pounding on the wall that separated the two buildings. The special someone needing the shoeshine was Mr. Newlin, president of the First National Bank.

 

Anne Johnson's Polly Anne Beauty Shop was housed in the rear of the barbershop. She cared for the fine ladies of Batavia and Geneva who wore their hair "just so." Sometimes the stories that were told in the barbershop were a little too rough for the delicate ears of Polly Anne's clientele, which brought forth a word of caution to Mike's customers.

 

Dominic Perna owned the very successful Fruit Store next to the barbershop, going south. Mrs. Perna often helped in the store, too, even though their children were quite young. On nice days they played out in back of the store. The Fruit Store was located next to an alley.

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At one time there was a small freight depot located in back of the Fruit Store named A&E&Fox River Express Office. Freight was exchanged between Aurora and Elgin my way of the streetcars. The merchandise was delivered to merchants or sent out by them.

 

The streetcars at that time ran in the middle of the brick-paved street. The freight manager's name was Mr. Halvorson. He did his job well in spite of the tobacco juice that dripped from both corners of his mouth.

 

There were several places of business south of the alley, such as Funk's Tire Shop and Car Repair, Tom Poulos' Confectionery, the A&P Store, and Hettinger Hardware. Tom Poulos, Sr. and his wife had seven children, Gus, Tom, Sophie, Pete, Steve, Stosh, and Andy, who all helped to keep the ice cream parlor open.

 

When they weren't helping mom and dad, they played in the alley behind their shop. Once little Andy fell in a well behind the store and had to be pulled out by the fire department.

 

Batavia Hotel stood in the middle. It was formerly known as Revere House. There is a fascinating article about it in Marilyn Robinson's book Batavia Places and the People Who Called Them Home, a book that is hard to put down.

 

In this small business community, the merchants were a friendly, jovial group, who did not quit when the going was tough, knowing that tomorrow would be a better day. A spirit of camaraderie existed among this group of retailers that could not be duplicated anywhere. They were stable, hardworking people, loyal to each other and to Batavia residents. 

 


 

Scrapbooks Indexed

by Marilyn Robinson

 

 

In making our move from the third floor to the research center, we gathered together forty-eight scrapbooks that contain a wealth of newspaper clippings on various topics and people. To make use of the books, a computer index was needed. During the summer our research intern, Julia Spalding, entered over 8,000 names of individuals and topics into the computer to be alphabetized. First, Julia and I numbered the pages in each scrapbook and chose an identifying name or topic for each clipping.

 

The books also received a number. The index has been completed and contains nearly 8,000 entries. The printed copy is over 300 pages long. Items in the scrapbooks date from as early as the 1880s to the 1990s. A great number have to do with men and women who served in the armed forces during World War II.

 

Viola Peterson kept an extensive collection of news items from 1941 to 1945. Mrs. F. P. Smith kept a smaller collection, but her items tell of the servicemen returning home and of their activities while away. War brides are introduced in her book. She also kept another book of news items about Batavia servicemen in the Korean War.

 

Mrs. William Bartelt kept several books during the 1930s that contain numerous birth announcements, obituaries, birthdays, anniversaries, and marriage write-ups. Harold Patterson's books contain articles on a number of different topics.

 

Some books are single topics ones: for instance, Plain Dirt Gardeners and Batavia's 1933 Centennial. Eunice Shumway's collection contains articles about her family's activities as well as other topics. Julia was paid for her time from the technology grant the society received from the Hansen-Furnas Foundation.

 

This index is just one of several similar projects that the research center hopes to complete and is possible through the Foundation's generous grant.

 

 


 

 

Gustafson Research Center Busy Helping Others

by Marilyn Robinson

 

The best way to measure the suc­cess of the Gustafson Research Center is to review the roster of visitors to the center and the website over the past six months.

 

Over sixty people signed the center's register. Others have visited but not signed, so couldn't be counted. The largest number of requests for information from local visitors is on the history of their house. We have had at least a dozen of these. Several third graders found informa­tion for their Batavia reports last spring.

 

Besides Batavia, visitors came from these other Illinois cities: Hopedale, Villa Park, Big Rock, Elmhurst, Lombard, Highland Park, Westchester, Naperville, North Aurora, Newark, Millington, and Sandwich. Most of these were searching for family history, but others were looking for windmill or rail­road information.

 

Out-of-state visitors came from Phoe­nix and Tucson, Arizona, Las Vegas, Nevada, California, and Wisconsin. We were able to give Henry Norbert of Las Vegas a big help. After we sent him information over the website, he came to visit one Friday. He was looking for the Streed, Dawby, and Ander­son families.

 

Ten days later on a Mon­day, Phyllis Holstead of Batavia came in. She was seeking information on the Streed, Dawby, and Anderson fami­lies. Henry and Phyllis share ances­tors, but did not know one another. We linked them together and hope that they have been able to share lots of information.

 

Fifty-five people requested help on a variety of topics over the Website during the last six months. Many of these required back and forth corre­spondence. E-mail makes our re­sponses nearly instantaneous.

 

Five website requests came from Batavians, one from England, and one from Indonesia. Out of state requests came from Arizona, California, Mas­sachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Ne­braska, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Ten­nessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

 

One request came from a writer doing a story on Mary Todd Lincoln and another from Newberry Library Chicago seeking information on Dr. Patterson.

 

Most of the requests are for family information though several have asked where they can buy Campana/ Italian Balm made by the Campana Corporation. Writers say their grand­mothers swore by the balm, and they want some.

 

One man in Arkansas is building a replica of the old powerhouse and has asked for pictures. Requests on how to restore windmills are referred to Bob Popeck.

 

Some who seek information give back more than they get. We have received several family histories includ­ing Rawson, Sheets, Glines, and oth­ers. People who visit often share photos and relics of old Batavia.

 

A big thank you to all contributors and volunteers who help in the Gustafson Research Center.

 

What's New At The Museum?

by Carla Hill, Director

 

Summer is winding down as fall quickly approaches. The heat of the summer had a negative impact on the daily attendance at the museum, but we still saw many families from the Kane-DuPage areas that were participating in the annual Passport program. This program continues to be very popular and truly encourages families to visit area museums and historical sites. The museum hosted its first flea market during the Windmill City Festival.

 

This was a fun event, and we hope that it continues to grow each year. With some of the money that was received from the Batavia Township, we have begun the process of microfilming. The first project, which is the microfilming of the museum's set of Windmill News, is currently underway.

 

Fall will also bring some muchneeded repairs. The museum will receive a new roof, new plexiglass will be installed over the gazebo windows, and we will be installing ultra-violet filtering glass over the transom windows on the main floor of the museum.

 

Work on these projects will begin in the next few weeks. We are offering some new classes this fall. Marilyn Robinson will be teaching a new class, "Genealogy on the Internet," in October. Anyone interested in taking a class can sign up through the Park District.

 

Chris Winter just completed a new exhibit entitled "Batavia Artists Past and Present." There are many forms of art represented in the display, which features items from the museum's collection as well as many items on loan from local artists.

 

Two of the museum's volunteers, Kathy Fairbairn and Pat Meyer, have loaned the museum their beautifully hand-crafted ceramic dolls. The exhibit will run until mid-October. Jim Richter saw the picture on the cover of the last issue of The Batavia Historian and stopped in to look at the original. He identified the little boy at the front of the parade as himself! As a result of his visit, he has donated several other wonderful photographs to the Society.

 

Other recent-donations include items from Ralph Voris and family, 1871 Atlas and 1878 Kane County Past and Present; Laura Lundgren, several items from Campana; Ronald McConnaughy, wooden strawberry crate; Ray Bristow, calendar from the Crane Furniture Store; Tim Glines, Glines family history, George and Ruth McCloud, Batavia yearbooks; Inge Martin, The War As I Saw It, 1918 letters of a Tank Corps lieutenant; Bob and Lillian Brown, several items including Farmers Almanac and World War IIartifacts; Ed and Anne Bonifas, handcrafted wood windmill models; Harold and Marj Holbrook, tintypes of the Schielke family; and Don Longacre, Batavia High School yearbooks.

 

Chris and I are currently working on the annual volunteer trip and Christmas party. Volunteers will receive information on both events in the mail. We are always looking for new volunteers -- anyone who would be interested in volunteering at the museum or research center can call Kathy Fairbairn at 406-9041 or Chris or myself at 406-5274.

 


 

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