Volume Forty-Seven

No. 4

October 2006



Marj Holbrook




15.jpgBatavia Foundry and Machine Company's 85-year history is about overcoming challenges, survival and family commitment. Its web site ( - a 21 st century indication of success - says it best: "A family-owned business since 1921," and adds: "For over 80 years, Chicago-area businesses have relied on us for high-quality non-ferrous sand castings."


Actually, the foundry does more business across the nation than in the immediate Chicago area. Batavia Foundry began when two friends, Arvid Peterson and Carl Swan, formed a company to do machining and cast brass, bronze, aluminumand other non-ferrous metals. Both men were too land-die makers and had served together in France during World War I. The 1920s were filled with promise after the Great War and a world-wide flu epidemic. The web site documents: "In 1921, Rudolph Valentino was a movie star; the first baseball game was broadcast on radio, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated in Washington, D.C."


Today, the company is operated by two of Arvid's grandsons: Scott Peterson, son of Harold Peterson, and Joel Peterson, son of Robert Peterson. Robert, though retired, stops by frequently. All three are skilled mold makers. "Nobody makes molds any more," Bob says with pride. "That used to be a skill that was taught; now the foundry has to teach it to promising employees."


A lifelong commitment Harold and Bob Peterson grew up in the foundry and bought out Carl Swan's share in 1955, just after Bob was discharged from Army service. Bob says his father lived for his sons to take over the business. The two brothers incorporated the business in 1963, partly to semi-retire their father. Arvid didn't retire easily, and was around almost until his death in 1969. "He worked hard and he loved to work," Bob and Scott both remember. "My dad was very anti-Roosevelt (FOR)," Bob explains. "He didn't like Social Security and thought you should save your own money for retirement."


In World War II, Harold Peterson served in the Navy aboard a troop transport. He had attended Michigan Tech at Houghton, Mich., before entering the Navy. After the war, he finished college at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, graduating in 1948, the same year he married Shirley Clarno. He died in January 1993. Son Scott bought his dad's share in 1985. Bob Peterson graduated from Purdue University in 1953, and served with the Army's Chemical Corps procurement division in Baltimore, Md. On June 21, 1964, he married Sue Nelson, daughter of Russell "Bussey" and Adelaide (Urich) Nelson of Batavia. Both Harold and Bob were active in the community and were long-time paid-an-call members of the Batavia Fire Department. For many years, Harold served on the Batavia Police and Fire Commission.


Bob was a member of the Batavia District 101 School Board for 15 years and board president for nine of those years. He's also on the Batavia Historical Society Board of Directors. Bob, Scott and Joel are proud of the three generations which have owned and operated Batavia Foundry and Machine. They add that whi le new techniques and equipment make foundry work easier than in 1921, it's still gritty, demanding work. Furnaces hot enough to melt metal mean there's no air conditioning. And though the foundry now has cranes to move equipment, it's still a labor-intensive industry.


Setting high standards


For long years after Arvid and Carl began, metals were metted in huge pots weighing 200 pounds and carried to molds by two men hoisting it on rods; a third man held the pot for pouring. When Arvid and Cart first began, they mixed their own metals. "They thought they provided better quality that way," Bob says. Earty jobs included casting parts for windmills, radios and sculptures. Windmill parts were sold to both The Challenge and U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co., Batavia's famous windmill manufacturers.


As time went on, Carl handled the office and Arvid continued in the shop. Both Bob and grandson Scott remember that Arvid could make anything, including the foundry's equipment. "When I first worked here, everything was made by Grandpa," Scott recalls. He says he still finds evidence of his grandfather's meticulous skill at the family cabin in the Canadian wilderness. "Grandpa never thought about buying anything for the place in Canada; he made it all." Arvid also made and repaired machinery for Lindgren Foundry, which, conveniently. was just across First Street. In the 1930s, while many companies struggled. Batavia Foundry had two shifts making rowing machines for Carson Pirie Scott in Chicago and other companies. Bob Peterson says men lined up around the block to apply for work. The late Tom Mair, an attorney who wrote a newspaper column and book, Batavia Revisited, says Arvid and Carl were approached by a Mr. Smith from New York who wanted the foundry to make his invention. The rowing machine had a sliding seat, oars restrained by springs and side rails on which the machine was mounted.


The partners made arrangements to have the wooden oars and side rails made in the wood room of The Challenge Co but made everything else in their foundry: seat, metal rails, oarlocks, foot stirrups, springs and assembly. Despite the Depression, the rowing machines became an immediate success and were sold and shipped throughout the world. War work in the 1940s During World War II, the foundry made brass impellers for American Well Works in Aurora, and castings for the Howell Co., and Hawley Products , both in St. Charles. The foundry's production was piled into the trunks of Arvid's and Carl's Hudson automobiles and delivered to the customers.


"We had a 'C' gas card so we could make deliveries," Bob remembers. "You couldn't get priority treatment unless you were involved in the war effort." The company didn't get its first truck until 1946. At the time, everything was sold by weight; today, prices are calculated by weight and complexity. After World War II ended , the foundry briefly cast bases for aluminum jukeboxes being made at Batavia Metal Products Co. The company had taken over the former U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co. quarters in downtown Batavia and made shell casings during the war.


"They were big castings," Bob recalls of the jukebox bases, "but the work didn't last very long; the company went bankrupt." In the 1950s, the foundry made aluminumcastings for DuKane Corp. in St. Charles. The castings were used in DuKane's film strip and slide projectors. Almost every school and church had them. Scott remembers the film strip projector at Bethany Lutheran Church where church secretary Bemice Olson would stand by the equipment and click to the next picture whenever the sound track «chimed." Long-term relationships Batavia Foundry has supplied castings to General Kinematics in Crystal Lake since 1963. "We service them well," Bob says with pride about the 43-year relationship. General Kiner matics manufactures vibrating cod~ veyor systems which are in operation around the world. Bob is proud that Batavia Foundry products are part of equipment sold to China and Russia and says it's evidence that the United States can sell to these countries instead of always buying from them.


Another long-term business relationship is with Siemens Global. It began decades earlier when Batavia Foundry made castings for Furnas Electric Co. in Batavia. When Furnas was purchased by Siemens, the business continued. The foundry also makes castings for Watlow, a Batavia company which manufactures heaters. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the foundry made large aluminum castings from which automobile seat cushions were made. Today, the foundry makes bronze trolley wheels for nonspark applications in hoist and crane systems, hoist heads, pipe caps, and even aluminum golf markers which can be designed for specific events or country clubs. The company website promises flexibility and quick turn-around for work ranging from one to 500 pounds.



The biggest project


One job that almost didn't turn out was casting the Compass Rose for Baker Memorial Park at Main Street (Route 64) and Fifth Avenue (Route 25) in St. Charles. Vernon Oie Sr., chairman of a committee formed to honor Col. Edward J. Baker for his contributions to S1. Charles, approached Harold and Bob Peterson and proposed that Batavia Foundry cast the bronze decoration which would be 8 feet in diameter and weigh 1,650 pounds. The wood pattern for the "rose" weighed 500 pounds and was made by Severo "Speed" Pasetti who had a pattern shop in Batavia. According to Tom Mair in BataviaRevisited, the brothers knew it would be a complex undertaking but couldn't resist the challenge. The foundry had to be remodeled and roof beams reinforced to carry the weight of the metal as the bronze was being poured.


The brothers decided to pour the mold in two pieces, a convex center and a circular outer ring. Bob says the challenge attracted the interest of John Shumway of Shumway Foundry who agreed to help with the pouring. Shumway and Bill Bortner, a Batavia Foundry employee, were trapped in a corner of the foundry when the mold leaked and molten metal began pouring out. Both escaped through a nearby window. The rose was installed in the park in 1958 and shows points of the compass, true north, and plaque for Edward J. Baker.


A momentous decision


The greatest challenge Batavia Foundry faced was whether or not to continue operations after the disastrous fire of July 18, 1985. "We had bought this building from Lindgren Foundry," Bob says of the current location at 717 First St. "We never thought we'd use it, but when ours burned to the ground, we moved here. We poured our first casting just 30 days after the fire." Scott remembers that the limestone walls of the old foundry were still smoldering the day after the fire when a command center was set up in his parents' kitchen. Harold and Shirley Peterson lived at 24 S. Mallory Ave., immediately north of the limestone foundry. Their house had been in danger, too. The fire department said if the wind had been from the south, the Peterson home would have been destroyed. "It was a significant thing, sitting down on July 19, and asking ourselves 'is this it, or do we rebuild?' " Bob remembers. They decided to continue. Both Bob and Scott praise the city, the Batavia community and their customers for the support received after the fire. "People in town helped with building walls, installing electric, just about everything. There was an outpouring from the community and our customers," Bob says. "The only thing we bought brand new was a compressor," he recalls, "and Furnas Electric gave us switch boxes for the compressor. Everything else was used. Foundries were going out of business and we could buy a lot of equipment from them. In a foundry, you use something for a month and it's old! We replaced what we lost with used equipment from all over the country: Connecticut to California. A whole semi-truck load was delivered." The company bought some new patterns, but many customers replaced patterns which had been destroyed.


First day memories


Bob and brother Harold both began helping at the foundry when they werr growing up. Scott, too, had worked there during summer vacations and after school. "Sometimes they had me washing windows," he says. "Can you imagine washing windows in a foundry? They were just making work for me."


Both instantly recall the dates of their first day.


"Mine was Jan. 9, 1942," Bob says, adding he was 12 years old. "We had a machine with two knives that chopped castings into individual pieces. A large casting might have six or more individual pieces and they had to be cut apart. I ran that machine. I wouldn't let my grandson do that today!" Scott says his first official day was Nov. 19, 1973. He and two buddies had been on an extended vacation of several months when they ran out of money and came home. He stoppe by the foundry, "and Uncle Bob asked if I wanted to come to work. I did." When Bob began full-time in 1955, he worked in the foundry all week and did bookkeeping and payroll on week , ends. "Payday was Monday," he says"I didn't have time to get it done during the week."


Bob's son, Joel, joined the foundry in 1992 and became an officer of the company in February 1996. Joel graduated from Western State College of Colorado in Gunnison with a degree in small business. The timing was perfect for him to return to Batavia to carry on the family tradition and join Scott as third-generation owners. Bob pauses as he talks about traditions. The foundry had a tradition of celebrating at Christmas with a large open house. "We would clean up the foundry," he remembers, and invite customers and friends for Tom andJerry's and roast beef and ham sandwiches.


My parents started this in the 1930s and it continued until the 1980s just before the fire. The men would gather at the foundry, and the ladies would be next door making the Tom and Jerry batter. I remember when I was young, there was no hot water at the foundry, and my dad carried a/ kettle of hot water from our house or North Harrison Street over to the foundry. It was icy, he slipped and fell and was burned by the hot water.


Today, the foundry has seven employees, including Scott and Joel who both work in the foundry as well as the office. Scott calls Bob the "CEO," even though he's not there on a daily basis. Across the United States foundries have been vanishing for more than two decades as companies outsource orders to China and the Far East, or turn to substitutes like plastics. Once, the Chicago Foundryman's Association had 35 to 40 member foundries. Today, Bob says, it has four - including Batavia Foundry and Machine.


 The G & E Greenhouse And Predecessors



The last issue included the history of the Sykora Greenhouse Company, predecessor 01 teday's Shady Hill   Gardens at 821 Walnut Street. This time, in the series on Batavia greenhouses and commercial gardens, we shall discuss the G & E Greenhouse and predecessors, which operated Irom as early as 1912 until 1995 at the southwest corner of South Harrison and Garfield streets. This story is based on information provided by Gene Schneider, a G & E owner and a recent Batavia alderman; two interviews with Bob Kalina, the last owner 01 the Sykora Greenhouse Company; and research performed by Jim Hanson.


In 1912 Henry Wenberg built the Wenberg Greenhouse at the southwest corner of South Harrison and Garfield streets. He was formerly involved in the greenhouse at Batavia Avenue and Main Street. As Bob Kalina observed, "Henry Wenberg was quite a builder. Anything you needed - a part for a ventilator, a roof bar or a piece of gutter, anything - Henry always had it out in his old barn in his back yard. He saved everything, he had everything, and he knew what it was for. He built a couple of greenhouses for us (the Sykora Greenhouse). And he did a real good job." By 1920 the operation was known as the Batavia Greenhouse Company. It was possibly at this time that Henry Wenberg took in a partner, Gotlieb Schott. As Kalina speculates, maybe they didn't get along, because shortly after that Schott bought out Wenberg, who went to Aurora and built another greenhouse. The operation had become the William Spandikow Company by 1956,but by 1958 the city directory carries the G & E name for the Harrison and Garfield location. 18.jpg


One Eric Johnson was both a partner of Spandikow and a partner of G & E Greenhouses based in Des Plaines, so it appears that G & E had taken over the Spandikow Company by then. The G & E operations were very large, with about 920,000 square feetdivided among four sites, with Des Plaines the main location. Land, located within five miles of Hare Field, had become very valuable, and it was sold. The next year the company, with Henry Schneider a part owner, was headquartered in theformer William Spandikow facilities in Batavia. Henry had gotten into the commercial gardening business in Germany after World War II. He obtained a sponsorship to come the United States and arrived in Chicago in 1952, beginning work in Berwyn at the greenhouse firm of Frank Ochslein. Later, in 1957, he took a management position with Premier Rose Gardens in DesPlaines.


The next year the company's name became G & E Greenhouses, named after the owners, George Weinhober and Eric Johnson. According to Gene Schneider, it is also said to stand for "Grows Early." Although present owner Gene Schneider was not born until after G & E moved to Batavia, he has many memories of the greenhouse operationin Batav ia. ''The original wooden framed greenhouses consisted of 14 greenhouses, each 28 feet wide and 275 feet long. They were all connected by the gutter to make a facility 392 feet wide and 275 feet long, netting a total of about 108,000 square feet. G & E added 12,000 square feet in 1966. "G & E," he says, "has always been totally wholesale, and as far as we know that was also the case with the previous owners of the facility. When G & E took over the Batavia facility, it began to switch production from cut flowers, mainly roses and mums, to potted indoor plants. By the end of1962, the entire facility had been converted to potted plants. "Toward the far south end of the greenhouses was a large cement tank that was half buried in the ground. It was about 6 feet tall, 20 feet wideand 100 feet long. This tank had pillars poured in the middle, so as to support a bridge of sorts.


In the early days horse drawn wagons full of cattle manure could be driven over this bridge and the manure unloaded, by hand shovel, into the tank that was them flooded with water, The water would then be pumped out of the tank and used as fertilizer for the plants in the greenhouse. "The greenhouses were heated by high pressure steam - steam produced by coal boilers. Actually for itstime, the greenhouses were about as up to date as you could get in the early 19OOs . The greenhouse owned property at the west end of Garfield Streetright next to the railroad tracks, with a siding for coal unloading and storagein a large coal shed. The early days of operations would have seen teams of horses, owned by the greenhouse, hauling the coal to the greenhouse. I remember trucks doing the hauling. When bringing in coal by rail got too expensive, Feltes Coal and Gravel Co. from North Aurora would haul it in." Schneider continued, "The boiler room is something I remember well. As a young boy I remember the noise and smell of that area. It was in 1962 that my father removed two of the coal boilers and replaced them with one large gas-fired boiler. The remaining coal boiler remained in service, but only in a reserve capacity. I remember when I was in high school it was my pleasure to fire the coal boiler in the winter months to always keep it warmed up in case the gas boiler had a breakdown. "I distinctly remember one Saturday going to the neighborhood store, Abhalter's, to get some snacks.


On the way back to the greenhouse, which was only about four blocks away from the store, I saw a giant plume of steam floating above the greenhouse area and got a little scared. I guess it was a good thing the boiler safety release valves worked because had stoked-so hard, the pressure buildup was a little more than I thought it would be. I definitely heard about it when I got back!" G & E began a Maple Park facility in 1971, with buildings constructed by Henry Schneider and leased to the company. Beginning in 1988, the Batavia operations were being phased out. Approximately 30,800 square feet of greenhouse were dismantled and moved to Maple Park. According to Gene Schneider, "Since 1961 the Batavia facility required a lot of maintenance due to lack of upkeep by the previous owner. The general conditions of the original buildings contributed to the decision to build a new facility in Maple Park. These buildings were made basically out of wood, not well maintained in the 40s and 50s, and the cost to do proper repairs was prohibitive.


"The type of construction used, although very strong, did not lend itself well to the types of energy saving equipment that became available to the greenhouse industry. Heating a greenhouse is a very expensive proposition, especially today. "Another reason for moving was basically location. When the greenhouses were originally built, not much residential was surrounding the facility - not the case now. There was a tremendous amount of product being produced in Batavia. Everything produced by G & E was delivered by our own medium-sized trucks. Therefore, here was a fair amount of truck traffic, not only by our own trucks but also by trucking companies delivering supplies to G & E. Obviously when trucks became larger, 50 foot semi trailer trucks, would have a very hard time servicing the Batavia facility. Truck' delivering at all hours of the night, also didn't sit well within the neighborhood. "The first buildings were removed and rebuilt in Maple Park in 1988. Some of the original greenhouses were demolished by 1990. In 1991 an additional 12,000 square feet of greenhouses were removed and rebuilt at the Maple Park site. In 1993 theoriginal masonry boiler room building and brick chimney, about 90 feet tall, were demolished.


Of interest is that the demolition company recycled at least 75 percent of the bricks from the chimney." Gene Schneider concluded, "I don't know if I'm lucky or not, being able to say I stoked a coal boiler, but it was a real interesting, hard and dirty experience. All in all, I have fond memories of the Batavia range. I did a lot of work there; growing plants isn't as easy as people think -- especially when there are many thousands at a time. There is a lot of labor involved and it can be hard at times, but it's what I know and what I grew up in" He is continuing at another location, a business that began back in 1912.



When Electricity Came to Batavia


The following story is excerpted, with some editing and rearrangement, from a 1966 story, presumably written by John Gustafson, that Jim Hanson came across in Lt the Gustafson Center. According to the writer, it is based on a summary of city council, proceedings that the late Edwin Barre had furnished to the Batavia Historical Society.

Edwin's father was Louis Barre, Batavia's city engineer from 1902 until his retirement in 1949 (much of the time also serving as plant superintendent), so Edwin would have been exposed from an early age to stories about the beginning days of electricity in Batavia.


That grand event happened March 30, 1891, a little more than two months before Batavia became a city. The dynamo building had been constructed, along with the city hall; the machinery installed; poles erected; wires strung; and electric light bulbs screwed in the sockets. All was ready for the critical moment. March 30, 1891, the city clerk was instructed to notify all consumers of electric lights to get lamps ready. The turning on of the lights must have happened the next day, April 1. If that is indeed when it happened, it was not an April Fool's day misadventure because everything went off as planned. But let's go back two years to the beginning of the dream for Batavia. Batavia must have had kerosene street lamps for some time before -- I have never been able to find out how long before electric lights. Some towns must have had gas lights between kerosene and electricity, but Batavia never did.


Kerosene lights must have been better than no lights at all, but their weak gleams couldn't have lighted the path of the traveler very far. Batavians must have been influenced by the coming of electricity to Aurora in 1875. At the time, Aurora installed 2000-candlepower lamps on the top of 150-foot towers, sixteen of them. However, the lights on these high towers lit up the skies better than the streets, so in 1886 they lowered them. Batavia chose the lower poles. The vote on April 16, 1889, had been: for electric lights 614, against electric lights 44, a comparatively small negative vote. The voters evidently realized the value of this newfangled light.


The town board of trustees had immediately got into action, appointing a special visitation committee to visit the cities of Belvidere and Clinton; it recommended a plant similar to the one at Clinton. Then the street lighting committee was instructed to draft specifications for such a plant. Now they needed a central place in which to build this plant, some place near a railroad. A lot owned by John VanNortwick on Island Avenue south of the music hall was ideal. President Miller appointed a committee to confer with Mr. VanNortwick to see if a lot that the city owned elsewhere could be exchanged for this Island Avenue lot. It could, with $300 to boot, so the lot was acquired. In July of 1889, plans and specification had been drawn up for steam engines and two boilers for the plant. A month later the contract was let to James F. McMaster, a local contractor, for a city hall led. note: the old city hall] and dynamo building "for $4,018 and foundation walls for $12.50 per cord."


In that same month, the contract was let to the Westinghouse Co. for an electric light plant, with a provision for 115 32-candlepower incandescent street lights for $6,800. Now things happened in quick order. In September of 1889, a $20,000 bond issue was passed to pay for all this. The building was built, and the steam engines and boilers, dynamos, poles, wires and lights were installed or erected and a plant electrician and a fireman were employed to run the establishment Then, an electrician was hired to make a thorough examination of everything. His approval was accepted, the lights were tested, and on March 30, 1891, everything was set for Batavia's,grand event of April 1.


What's New at the Museum

by Carla Hill


The Art Festival was the perfect time to re-display the John Falter painting, "Skaters on the Pond," after it was cleaned and restored by Chicago Conservation in Chicago. The Batavia Woman's Club, which owns the painting, paid for the restoration. It is wonderful that the club took such a proactive step in the care of something that is such an important part of Batavia's history. This summer we saw many families from the Kane-DuPage area participating in the annual Passport program. This program continues to be very popular and truly encourages families to visit area museum and historical sites. Chris Winter is in the process of preparing an exhibit on Batavia businesses for the fall, which will feature business photographs and artifacts beginning around the turn of the last century.


Be sure to stop in to see the exhibit, which will be open after Labor Day. We are also making preparations for school tours, the Annual Museum Volunteer Christmas Lunch and the 100th Birthday Celebration for our C.B. & Q caboose, which will take place in Fall 2007. We are always looking for new volunteers. Anyone who would be interested in volunteering at the museum or the research center can call Lois Benson, 879-1080, or Chris and Carla at the museum, 406-5274.


Police Officials Raid Batavia "Alky Still"

Seventy-five Gallons of Alcohol Taken in Raid on Harry Cleland Home



As part of the Kane County Chronicle's commemoration of 125 years of publishing news in Kane County, it is republishing archived stories from its community newspapers. This story first appeared in May 15, 1931, Batavia Herald and is reprinted here with the permission of the Chronicle.



Seventy-five gallons of "first run alcohol" put up in five-gallon containers, and an "alky still" with tanks, piping,coils, hose, etc., were taken by police 0fficials in a surprise raid on the home of Harry Cleland, 55 Hamlet Street, shortly after midnight Thursday morning. In addition to the alcohol and equipmen ttaken in the raid, about one thousand gallons of mash, contained in huge tanks in the basement of the Cleland home, were destroyed by the raiding officials.


The raid was conducted by Chief of Police Severin Alberovsky, and Police Officials Sherman Fredendall and Fred Cowan. The raiding officials were kept busy for several hours destroying the mash and trucking the alcohol and equipment to City hall, where the evidence was viewed yesterday by hundreds of curious citizens. Harry Cleland, proprietor of the "alkyshop," was placed under arrest and lodged in the city jail, where he was still held yesterday afternoon when the Herald went to press, pending a hearing. Cleland was held on two charges, that of illegal manufacture of intoxicants, and of tapping in on the city water meter.


Police officials stated that Cleland was operating with surprising efficiency, the water costing him nothing, as it went around the meter, and a similar gas connection making it possible for him to run his "cooking equipment" without any charge for gas. Local officials stated yesterday afternoon that they would demand the maximum fine when Cleland is called for a hearing before police Magistrate Alex Johnson.


Another Cemetery Mystery

by Marilyn Robinson


The article in the last Historian, regarding the mystery of the tombstone of Edward H. Mix in the West Side Cemetery reminded me of a tombstone mystery I tried to solve. One day in 2001 while walking through the East Side Cemetery, I found an impressive stone and was drawn to the last sentence-" Henry Bracken 1853-1879, Civil Engineer Who Gave His Life to Free The City of Memphis, Tenn. from Yellow Fever Epidemics." I set about to find out why anyone who worked in Memphis in 1879 and died of the yellow fever there was buried in Batavia. I put together what I could find on the Bracken family in Batavia and researched the epidemic. As might be expected, my search reached beyond the history of Batavia. I found sources on the internet for both Henry and Yellow Fever epidemics. Marilyn Wolf, a librarian at DePaul University, and Patricia LaPointe, Curator of the Memphis and Shelby County Room at the Memphis City Library, were of great help. The 1850 Batavia census told me that U. M. Bracken was born in Pennsylvania and was a teacher in Batavia. Because our history tells us that the first frame school building was erected here in 1852, Mr. Bracken must have taught in the old log school out by the Payne cabin near Kirk Road. He lived with William H. Chambers, a carpenter, and the Chambers family in 1850. On July 18, 1852, Ulisus (sic) Milton Bracken married Sarah Stinchfield in Kane County. Sarah was born in Maine in 1832 and lived with Lansing Morgan and his family on the east side of Batavia in 1850. Mrs. Morgan was born in 1823, also in Maine.


Were the ladies related? I haven't determined for sure; but in later years, an elderly lady with the last name of Stinchfield lived with the Morgans in Elgin. The Brackens had a son in 1853 and they named him Henry. Both parents died in 1855 when Henry was only two. In the 1860 census for Elgin, the child is living with the Lansing Morgan family in Elgin. He is 17 years old and living with the same family in 1870. I believe he studied to be a civil engineer. While the relationship between Henry's mother and the Morgan family is not confirmed, there appears to be a connection. In addition to members of the family living with the Morgans, there is an identical stone beside the Brackens.' It is for Nathan Morgan, 1790-1870, and his wife Abigail Beemas. Henry's death certificate from Memphis shows he died September 24, 1879, in the City Hospital of Yellow Fever under the care of Dr. Thornton. He was 26 years old. The record of his death doesn't list the place of burial, but I doubt his diseased body was brought back to Kane County. He's probably buried in a Memphis cemetery or like many victims of such contagious diseases, his body may have been burned. It was important to quickly dispose of victims of any pandemic to avoid the spread of disease. A newspaper account of Memphis deaths on September 24, 1879, reads.


The yellow-fever news of yesterday was unfavorable, there being an increase of new cases and deaths reported to the board of health. The sudden change in the weather Tuesday night no doubt had no little to do with the increase of the number of deaths. The fever is certainly holding its ground stubbornly and has yet shown but little sign of abating. It seems to hunt for its victims regardless of locality and to pick them here and there throughout the city. We hope by the end of the week to be able to announce some abatement of the dread disease. There were ten new cases that day and eight additional deaths, including Henry's. Over 500 people died in Memphis of the Yellow Fever during that summer of 1879. The epidemic of 1878 had been far worse. More than 5,000 people succumbed to the dreaded disease in Memphis. Panic swept the city, and some 25,000 citizens took flight from Memphis. Almost everyone who could afford to do so left the city and fled to higher ground away from the Mississippi River. It wasn't known at that time that the disease was mosquito-borne, but it was observed that high and dry places seemed to be safer.


This flight and the deaths so depopulated the area that the city lost its charter and was not reorganized as a city again for 14 years. By the spring of 1879, Memphis merchants wanted sanitary reform. An obvious source of filth was privies that, saturated soil with human waste, contaminating the water supply and poisoning the air. An open sewer ran through part of the city and was the worst. Citizens wanted an underground sewer. Perhaps Henry went to Memphis to help build it. People all over the country tried to help in 1879. Citizens of Elgin sent $83.55 in relief. Employees of the Elgin Watch Company sent $292.30, the Insane Hospital, $101.50, and the Board of Trade of Elgin, $55.00. Citizens of Aurora collected $201.25, the Union Baptist Church of Aurora sent $32.63, the Trinity Episcopal Church of Aurora, $17.25, and the German Methodist Church of Aurora, $8.00. I couldn't find any record of donations from Batavia, but I'd wager there were some. If anyone knows more about Henry and/or the Lansing family, please contact me at the Gustafson Research Center.

Membership Matters


Since the last issue, the following life members have joined the society: Carol Ann Marcus (Villa Park) and Tri Cities Dialysis LLC (Geneva). Other new members (from Batavia unless otherwise noted) are Nancy Soderquist Alexander (gift of Carole and Marvin Dunn), Carol Barrett, Edward C. and Janice A. Cook, Margaret Wolcott Double (Medford, OR), Jack Kinton (North Aurora), Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Lowe, and Sarah Dunn Matthews (South Elgin, gift of Carole and Marvin Dunn).


We regret to report the deaths of members:


Dorothy Mae Bergeson Hassler;

Raymond Bristow, a life member;

Robert V. Brown, a director of the society and a former mayor of Batavia;

Neil Conde, Jr.;

Betty Dempsey;

and Barbara Conde Hopkins.


We have received memorial gifts as follows:

in memory of Bob Johnson from Barbara Conde Hopkins and Ken and Jackie Upham

and in memory of Mary Peterson from Ruth Johnson


Stanley Misner made a contribution for research performed by Marilyn Robinson.




Marj Holbrook


Marjorie Wigton doesn't talk about history, she talks about living it.


19.jpgThe petite and fashionable Stone Manor resident seems to be enjoying her 10th decade of history. At 95, she's still an engaging conversationalist and brims with stories about her life. She's dressed in a bright blue pantsuit and metallic blue shoes that echo the color as she welcomes a visitor. It takes only a few minutes before she moves to her beloved Wurlitzer harp to demonstrate her professional skill. Wigton retired from the Burlington Northern Railroad in 1976 after 39 years of employment that took her across the Midwest and western United States.


A long-time Aurora resident, she's lived at Stone Manor for the past 20 years and adopted Batavia as her town. But it's the harp which was Wigton's first - and lasting - love! Her first harp was a Christmas gift from her father when she was just 12 years old. A newspaper clipping says the instrument was hidden in the attic, but Wigton had a clue about it since her 6-year-old brother was in the attic Plucking the strings.  "My heritage is Scotch-Irish, she says proudly.


"There's a Wigtown and a Wigtownshire in Scotland." Her father definitely claimed his Scots background and wanted his daughter to play the harp. Though he worked fulltime for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, he also had taught himself to play the trombone and played professionally with groups across the United States. "I guess I inherited my musical talent from him," she says. Her father took her to an Aurora teacher who worked with her for three years. Then the teacher told the father, "I've taught her everything I can; you'll have to find someone else."


Her dad took her hand and they went to the Wurlitzer store in Chicagow here she met Alberto Salvi, a famous Italian harpist who was teaching at Northwestern University. He asked her to play for him. "Oh, I was scared," she remembers with a smile. "I'll take her if she practices," he said, and she practiced six or seven hours a day for the five or six years hat he was her teacher. She certainly met his high expectations: a photo of Salvi in white tie and tails is autographed to her with extravagant praise. Wigton is a 1929 graduate of East Aurora High School where she was a member of the orchestra as well as the GAA (Girls Athletic Association), several sports and academic groups, and an honor roll student. "I was athletic, she says, pointing to her yearbook information.


"I participated in everything except tennis and swimming." In 1928, she was one of 11 harpisis performing in the National High School Orchestra which presented a concert at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago. She displays the framed photograph taken at the event. In 1933, she was a harpist in the Irish Village at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. She remembers that Sally Rand was dancing next door in the "Streets of Paris" exhibit. "You always remember where you were on important dates," she says. "I remember when Dillinger was shot. I took the train back to Aurora and it was such a dark night and I was apprehensive. "I remember Dec. 7, 1941. My boyfriend was driving me to DeKalb where I was to perform. And when Kennedy was shot, I was at the Bohemia restaurant in Chicago having lunch."


When her falher died at age 48, she knew she had to find steady work to help support her mother. She turned to the Burlington and became a Zephyrette! That was the title bestowed on stewardesses on the railroad's sleek stainless steel Zephyr trains. "We'd greet passengers as they boarded, take them to their seats, and make sure everything was comfortable. We'd care for a baby while the parents had lunch or dinner, warm a bottle, that kind of thing. We also pointed out landmarks that were visible from the windows. "I was on Zephyrs traveling from Chicago to San Francisco, Minneapolis, Denver, Kansas City and Dallas. Everywhere I went, I'd look up harpists, go to visit them and learn from them."


The glamour job lasted until World War II when trains were diverted to transporting troops. She worked in the Burlington's payroll office for a brief time, and then transferred to the law department. One of the lawyers said: "All the law department needs is a harpist." "I was a researcher and didn't know a thing about law" she says. "I found out the hard way. I didn't know the terminology and had to learn everything." But she stayed for more than 30 years until mandatory retirement at age 65.


During it all, she continued to play the harp. She was a member of the Blackhawk Concert Orchestra which became the Civic Orchestra of Aurora. She also played at many weddings, funerals, receptions and parties. She laught herself to play piano and began composing. She moves from her place at the harp to the spinet piano, playing the song she wrote for a wedding, singing in a dusky alto, "I'm waiting for you with every breath I take." But the harp has been the music of her life.


Each day she rises, says "Good morning, God" and proceeds to the harp to play a flowing arrangement of Alfred Hay Mallotte's Lord's Prayer. She demonstrates with a showmanship that has not diminished over the years.



Christmas on the Farm


Helen Bartelt Anderson


We know it isn't quite Christmas, but we wanted to include in this issue the last of Helen Anderson's stories about holidays on the farm in the early 1900s. And besides, the next issue won't come out until after Christmas. This story first appeared in the October, 1996, issue.



About the middle of December we began thinking and dreaming about Christmas. We colored and cut out Christmas trees, stars and bells to decorate out schoolroom. We even had red and green chalk to draw designs like holly on the blackboards. We had a program on an evening before Christmas so that parents and families could come. Our school did not have electricity. Parents brought kerosene lamps to light the room. Mrs. Perrow gave us each a little decorated box of candy that had handles for carrying. One of the department stores in Aurora (either Sencenbaugh's or Wade, Leitz) had a long shelf on their south wall where each year an animated Santa Claus sat in his sleigh, which was pulled by several reindeer. Santa sat bowing and waving to everyone amid the sound of tinkling sleigh bells attached to the reindeers' harnesses.


Pure magic! Kinne & Jeffery's was another magic place that we visited. There were so many beautiful toys - dolls and buggies, fire trucks and trains, puzzles and games! If I remember right, the toys were on the third floor. Christmas Eve at home had its share of magic, too. As always, certain foods stand out in my memories. On Christmas Eve it was oyster stew, with home-canned fruit and cookies. The cookies could have been soft molasses or sugar cookies, which Mama had baked. Sometimes she would send to Sears for this big five pound box of assorted cookies. They would come in a flat cardboard box, each kind packed in a neat row. There were Mary Janes with frosting, plain ginger cookies, oatmeal with raisins, sugar cookies and best of all, a row of round cookies with a mound of marshmalow topping, covered with coconut. I believe we always had a Christmas tree, with ornaments and icicles hanging down. In our home there were a front room and a parlor.


The parlor was a much smaller room. It was in this room that each year a beautiful Christmas tree with gifts underneath came into being. Roger and I were not allowed to enter the parlor the last few days before Christmas. Mama said Santa Claus might be peeking in the windows and he wouldn't like it if he saw us. We tried awfully hard to be good. On Christmas Eve, while we still sat at the supper table, Papa may have said, "Mama, did you hear a noise, like a bell or something?" Mama may have answered, "I thought I heard something, too." With that Mama would jump up from the table and run into the parlor, calling out, "He's been here." Then, there was a mad scramble for the parlor. Gifts were few in number. They were unwrapped and looked wonderful to us. One special year, Roger received a little steam engine that really ran.


It was powered by a small alcohol burning lamp. Another year a hired man made a wooden barn for Roger. From that time on our play time was mostly spent in making cardboard horses, cows and pigs. Never mind that I wanted to play with my doll or my butterfly transfer pictures. Roger made harnesses of string for his horse. He made stanchions and feeding troughs of cardboard. One year I found under the tree a beautiful, large doll with a pink dress and bonnet. She was sitting in a buggy, waiting for me to pick her up. Years later I learned that my Sadie was bought by Mama's cousin, Sadie, and dressed by another cousin, Oma. At the time Santa got credit for all these gifts. The same year that I received my Sadie, Roger got a team of wooden, dapple-grey horses with bright red harnesses. Roger told me a short time ago that Papa had made these little harnesses of red leather. One year Roger and I both had the measles. We spent Christmas Day in bed with no lights and all the shades pulled. It was believed that light would cause blindness to anyone with measles. We were both too sick to play with our new toys, anyway.


I do not remember how many days we had to spend in that hot, dark room. Another year Santa couldn't get to our house on Christmas Eve, but after Papa came in from milking Christmas morning, we all ran into the parlor to see if Santa had been there during the night. There were real candles on the tree which Mama and Papa carefully lit. I will never forget that sight, although I was very young. For several years after that we did not have lights on our trees. Eventually electricity came to the country. Our lives and our celebrations were simple and fun. We learned and have never forgotten that people do not need a lot of things to make them happy.