Volume Fifty-One

No. 3


November, 2010




Marilyn Robinson

Dec 25, 1931 - Jul 13, 2010



It is with great sadness that we let our readers outside of the Batavia know about the passing of our dear historian, Marilyn Robinson. Marilyn loved to tell the stories of Batavia’s history to young and old alike. She was an author and speaker who kept the third graders of Batavia enthralled with her stories of life in the Little Town by the Big Woods. We have reprinted her obituary below for those who might have missed it.


1.jpgMarilyn Gertrude Robinson of Batavia, Illinois, died suddenly on Tuesday, July 14, 2010 aged 78 years. Born in Eureka, Illinois on December 25, 1931 to Dale S. Robinson and Altjen (Heiken) Robinson, Marilyn was preceded in death by a sister, Winifred Robinson and a brother, Dale H. Robinson. She attended schools in El Paso, Illinois, and graduated from El Paso High School in 1949. She received a bachelor’s degree in Education from Illinois State Normal University in 1960 and a master’s degree in Business Education from Northern Illinois University in 1966 and she later took an additional year of education courses at Northern. Marilyn taught Business Education at Tower Hill High School, Tower Hill, Illinois for four years, at Cornell High School, Cornell, Illinois for two years and at Batavia High School, Batavia, Illinois for 22 years, from where she retired in 1988.


Following her retirement she worked for several years as secretary to the Batavia Foundation for Educational Excellence and coordinated the Batavia Public Library Writers’ Workshop for 17 years, helping a number of fledgling authors get their works published. She volunteered at the Batavia Historical Society and had served on the board of directors since 1990 and as the society’s historian. Her many free-lance writing projects included historical columns for the Windmill Herald, a Batavia newspaper. After it ceased publication she wrote weekly historical columns for the Kane County Chronicle for four years. In 1989 Marilyn wrote Little Town in a Big Woods, a children’s history of Batavia, now in its third edition.


The school district has used the book in its classrooms ever since and Marilyn regularly visited with third graders. She has written several other local history books, including The Sidewalks of Elburn. For her many contributions to Batavia she was named Citizen of the Year in 1995.


Her survivors include an adopted family – Jeff and Elizabeth Spalding, Frances Spalding Perry and Julia Spalding, many close friends and associates, and several first cousins.







The Senility Club


The Senility Club started in 1985 at the Gary Wheaton Bank of Batavia. Elliot Lundborg, who had worked for many years at the bank, had retired and came into the bank once a week on Tuesdays. He'd take his afternoon coffee break downstairs with former classmates, Don Schielke and Tom Mair, who would drop by. On occasion Bill Wood who was employed at the bank would join them. Jim Hanson who was County Superintendent of Schools was President of the Batavia Historical Society at the time and would drop by to talk with Elliot, the group's treasurer. Soon Bob Riley, the bank president was recruiting members, saying to native Batavians, "They're downstairs talking about Batavia. Why don't you join them?" The club added Bob Kalina and Bob Phelps to the roster. When Don Schielke had hip replacement surgery, the club moved to his home to make it easier for him. Bob Riley offered the use of the bank's Randall Road facility (because it had an elevator) but the group declined.


Every Tuesday afternoon the club met to talk about the history of Batavia. They identified people in photographs for the Historical Society and answered questions for people who want to know more about Batavia. Bob Kalina enjoyed the camaraderie of the group and the reminiscing about the history of the town. "It was great to be able to help people out with their questions about what the town was like when we were growing up."


The group had a lot of contact with David Gliddon who graduated from Batavia High School in 1962. David is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside. He had written a number of articles about growing up in Batavia and has consulted the group from time to time. The club was also visited by Eric Nelson, son of Steve and Anita Nelson. Eric was interested in Batavia's involvement in the Civil War and used the group for help with his research.


How did the group get its name? Years ago, Bill Wood said that he wasn’t exactly sure how the name came about but he accepted the blame. "Someone referred to the group as the Tuesday Afternoon Club and I said 'The Senility Club?' and the name stuck" he said. The group may have consisted of a few of Batavia's old-timers but one thing was for sure, they were far from senile. Their memories were as clear as a Batavia morning.




Membership Renewal – Does Your Mailing Label Say 2009?



It’s that time of year again. Membership renewal time. If your newsletter mailing label has "2009" or "2010" in the upper right-hand corner, your membership needs to be renewed. If you want to keep receiving the Batavia Historian, please detach or copy the renewal form on the back of the newsletter and send your membership in to the address indicated. We look forward to continuing to hear from you.



Our Holiday Potluck Dinner

Sunday, December 5 at 5 P.M.

Bethany Lutheran Church

Fellowship Hall


Although you will receive (or maybe already have received) a postcard reminder of our popular Holiday Potluck Dinner, you should put the date on your calendar now. For many, this is the highlight of our annual functions.


Please bring a dish to pass. You will also need to bring your own table service (plate, silverware). Swedish meatballs, rolls, and coffee will be provided. Our musical program will be provided by the Mad Monks of Melody, an entertaining musical offering.

Looking forward to seeing you there!






Dr. Robert Barnes Accepts Position As Historian Of The Historical Society


Bob Barnes moved to Batavia in the 3rd grade. He went through Batavia schools, graduating in 1952. He attended Michigan State University and University of Illinois College of Medicine. Dr. Barnes practiced family medicine in Geneva for nearly 30 years. He was a co-founder of Fox Valley Family Physicians, now the largest family practice group in the area. He served as president of Medical Staff of Community Hospital and on their board of trustees. He is also a former president of the Geneva Public Library board.


A life member for many years of the Batavia Historical Society, Bob wrote the only book published about Kane County and Batavia's first settler, entitled "Christopher Payne, American Pioneer" which is for sale in the Museum's gift shop. (Former Historian Marilyn Robinson served as editor.) Bob is now retired. His wife is the former Marlene Millett, his grade school and high school sweetheart. They have 3 children, and 9 grandchildren.


"I see a great challenge in following in the footsteps of Marilyn Robinson, Batavia’s former Historian," he said.


Thanks, Bob, for taking on this important responsibility.


Bob Kalina Passes



1.jpgSadly, the last member of the Senility Club recently passed away. Bob Kalina was a lifelong resident of the town he loved: Batavia. He had a special love for and knowledge of the Fox River, where he fished, clammed, crabbed, swam, skated, camped, and enjoyed all that nature offered. Bob was an avid fisherman and fishing was his art and passion. He was a self taught naturalist who knew the Fox River intimately. Bob grew up working in the family business, Sykora Greenhouse, which was started by his grandfather in the early 1900s. He graduated from Batavia High School in 1933, and always enjoyed attending his reunions, including the 70th in 2003.


After his return from World War II, he became an owner/operator of the Greenhouse, a wholesale cut flower business that was sold in the 1970s, and became Shady Hill Gardens. Bob was a charter member of the American Academy of Master Florists and belonged to the Illinois State Florists Association.



A member of the "Greatest Generation," he was a proud veteran of World War II. He enlisted in the Army Air ForceOctober 1941, and graduated from radio operator and mechanischool at Scott Field, Ill., wheserved overseas beginning in North Africa, landing with the initial elements in Operation Torch, the first U.S. operation against Axis powers, and later in Italy, where he served until war's end. Bob was assigned to the 419th Bomb Squadron, 301st Bomb Group (H), 15th Air Force, which operated the B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers and the medium B-25. He was awarded the Soldiers Medal for Bravery, earned ten Battle Stars, and two group Presidential Citations.


Bob married Virginia Donley of Chicago on Aug. 2, 1945, and together they lovingly raised their three daughters. He was a member of American Legion Post 504 for 64 years and served the City of Batavia as an alderman in the 2nd Ward and on the Batavia Plan Commission. He had an incredible memory and loved sharing his knowledge of growing up in Batavia.




We would like to welcome the following new members who have joined since the last newsletter:


James & Helen Book, Batavia IL

Kathy Becker, Glen Ellyn IL

Glenn & DeAnna Miner, Batavia IL

Bob & Lois Dahlstrom, Batavia IL


In addition, the following people have joined at or upgraded to Life Membership status. Thank you very much:


Rick Pittman, Sycamore IL, gift of father, Ronn Pittman

Suzan Pittman Avila, Batavia IL, gift of father, Ronn Pittman

Robert & Anne Gleason, Las Vegas NV

Bruce W. Burnham, Lake Forest IL, gift of Ruth Burnham

Stephen L. Burnham, Geneva IL, gift of Ruth Burnham

Sharon Wise, Mesa AZ, upgraded to Life membership

Gene & Jeanie Fisk, Batavia Il ugpraded to Life membership.


New Society Officers


Elections were held at the last General Meeting of the Batavia Historical Society in October. The following people were elected to two-year terms:


Vice President - Bob Nelson

Treasurer - Jon Habegger

Historian - Bob Barnes

Directors - Norm Freedlund, Chris Winter, Kyle Hohmann, and Gary King.


Please feel free to direct any questions or issues to these or the other Board members. We also wish to thank Phil Elfstrom for his service to teh Society during the 5 years of being a Board Member.

Do You Know What This Is?



Kyle Hohmann recently came across this item and we aren’t sure what it is. We thought that we would put this question to our knowledgeable membership. It is about 5 inches long and the metal end is solid. The inscription on it reads: A.S. CO COLUMBIA, PAT. JULY 23 1893. If anyone might be familiar with this, please feel free to contact the Historian or the Depot Museum.




















Major League Baseball in Batavia

By Gary King1.jpg


Batavia has several ties to Major League Baseball, from the earliest days to recent players. The first was Charlie Briggs who was born in September of 1860, in Batavia, the son of John and Marva Briggs. Briggs was 23 years old when he broke into the big leagues on May 2, 1884, with a team in the Union Association, the Chicago Browns which then became the Pittsburgh Stogies, a team that lasted only one year. He played shortstop, second base and the outfield in his one year on the team. He was buried in West Batavia Cemetery in 1920.


Al Corwin was born in Newburgh, New York in 1926. Corwin was 24 years old when he broke into the big leagues on July 25, 1951, with the New York Giants and played through 1955 with that team as a pitcher. He lived in Geneva, passed away in 2003, and is buried in River Hills Memorial Park.


Another pitcher, Bruce Von Hoff, the son of George and Ann Von Hoff, was raised in Batavia. He played for the Houston Astros in 1965, ’66 and ’67. Bruce currently lives in Florida.




By Marj Holbrook



This article concludes the story begun in the June 2010 edition of the Historian.


Sanborn maps introduction


The Depot Museum is fortunate to have a collection of some Sanborn maps. These huge maps, which need to be spread on a table, were published by the Sanborn Map & Publishing Co. Limited, in New York City from the mid-1800s to about 1963 and depicted buildings in every community in the United States.


The maps were used by insurance underwriters to determine insurance costs, especially in the event of fire. The diagrams indicated the type of building – wood frame, brick, stone, etc. – the prevailing winds, information about fire protection and other pertinent data. They also showed streets, property lines, rivers, streams and railroad tracks.

This year, the museum has received 8.5 by 11-inch copies of some maps from 1885, 1891, 1897, 1907, 1916 and 1928. The copies were made by Steve Lorenz of Somonauk, a friend of Dan Holbrook’s, from material available temporarily on the University of Michigan web-site. Until the maps were made available on the web site, they had to be purchased from the company.




In 1885 Batavia had two public schools and two school districts. The west side school had classes for first through 12th grades in a turreted limestone building in the middle of the block bounded by Batavia Avenue, Houston and First Streets and Washington Avenue.


The East Side School faced South Street about in the middle of the block between Washington Avenue and Van Buren Street. "Historic Batavia" by Marilyn Robinson and Jeff Schielke explains that the two schools were in separate districts and each had classes for first through 12th grades. In 1910, Batavians voted to consolidate the two districts and formed District 101. In 1912, citizens approved a $45,000 bond issue to build a consolidated high school at the corner of South Batavia Avenue and Wilson Street. The red brick school opened in 1915 and served students and teachers essentially unchanged until 1950 when citizens voted to build an addition to house a huge gymnasium, music and home economics facilities.


The school site was a high school and then a junior high/middle school until 1991 when District 101 opened what is now Rotolo Middle School on Batavia’s southeast side. The downtown site was purchased by the Batavia Library District; the school building was razed, and the new Batavia Library was constructed on the land.


Retail and commercial


The 1885 maps show a drug store on South Batavia Avenue, approximately where Johnson’s Drugs conducted business years later. On Wilson Street, west of Mechanic (now Shumway), there were a bakery, dry goods and drug stores on land now occupied by Prairie Path Cycles and Batavia’s former post office.

At the foot of South Street (now State) was a creamery. The hill stretching down from Washington Avenue to the building was known as "Buttermilk Hill" by generations of Batavia kids who towed sleds to the hill in winter months. By 1897, the creamery was known as the Batavia Farmers Association Butter and Cheese. Just north of it was the Hollister and Brooks Feed Mill; the C&NW tracks from Geneva ended at the feed mill. That right-of-way is now part of the Fox River Trail network in Kane County. The Hollister and Brooks Feed Mill was about where Larson-Becker Co. is today.

In 1916, the creamery had become the Key & Chappell Dairy and the Hollister and Brooks Feed Mill was the G.W. Howarth Feed Mill. By 1928, the dairy had become Bowman Dairy; directly across, at the northeast corner of River and State streets, was the Puritan Dairy.

In 1928, there was a garage at the southeast corner of North Batavia Avenue and Houston Street. This property became Don Clark’s Avenue Motors when the company moved there in 1933. It now houses several businesses including Sofa Solutions.




The 1885 Sanborn plat shows the H.R. Williams and Sons Green Houses at the northeast corner of Batavia Avenue and Main Street. (This is now the site of Chase Bank.) The greenhouses took up about one-fourth of the city block. By 1897 it appears that the greenhouses have been enlarged.

By 1907, the greenhouses have been rearranged but are still on the same land. The label says "Winberg & Johnson, Prop’rs."

In 1916, the Batavia Greenhouse Co. covers most of a city block at Garfield and Harrison streets on Batavia’s far southwest side. These were expanded by 1928. But the green houses at Main and Batavia Avenue were still on the 1916 plat and also are called the Batavia Greenhouse Co., Wenberg & Johnson, proprietors.

In 1897, the P.G. Pearson & Co. greenhouse was at the corner of South Batavia Avenue and Morton Street. But in January 1907, it shows Andrew Anderson, Florist.

Geo. H. Serviss & Sons had a greenhouse along Walnut Street, west of Harrison Street. By 1928, this was the Sykora Greenhouse; much later it became Shady Hill Gardens, owned and operated by the Heidgen family.


And there were as many as eight glass greenhouses on the west side of the Bellevue Property. At that time, the property stretched from Jefferson west to Harrison Street and from Elm south to Walnut Street. In 1916, the Nell E. Fabyan Green House, 1.5 miles north of the Post Office, is shown in an inset on the map. In 1928 the map shows these were renamed the River Bank Green Houses.




In addition to the roller rink on Water Street, Batavia had a music hall on South Mechanic (now Shumway Avenue). In 1928, this was called the Moving Pictures building, and later was the Capitol Theatre and still later, a beauty shop. The property is in the process of being redeveloped by Batavia architects KS+A.

The maps also show the growth of the city. Early maps have just a few houses in each block, but later ones show more homes had been built. By 1928, the city stretched west to Van Nortwick Avenue though there were few buildings on the lots there.


(Additional information and clarification is from "Historic Batavia" by Marilyn Robinson and Jeffery Schielke.)






Portion of the 1885 Sanborn map showing the northeast corner of Batavia Avenue and Wilson Street.

The Holy Cross Church building is roughly where the Hubbards' furniture store is today.

Lime Kilns, or Up In Smoke

By Gary King


Though not a celebrated industry, the manufacture of lime from limestone was a prerequisite for the practice of many other nineteenth century trades. Masons, plasterers, farmers and others needed lime to accomplish their tasks. Batavia was not immune to this need, and with a rich supply of limestone and several quarries along the river, there were several lime kilns in the area. With the many stone buildings in Batavia and the use of plaster for wall finishing, there was a high demand for lime.


Burning lime was a fairly important industry in Batavia when limestone was being quarried here. George Bird lists several in an article in the Batavia Herald for September 1, 1933, the Centennial Edition. He says "there was one at Hendrickson's quarry (south of Dr. Lysne’s home). There were big lime kilns up where George Vermilyer lived (N. Washington Avenue) and another big one was located where Barney Price’s junk yard is (south side of State Street between Washington Avenue and N. River Street) . . . and two down on Mahoney's Creek (west of Route 25 and south of Batavia just south of the VFW)." There was also one on the west side of N. Water Street between Wilson and Houston.


There undoubtedly were others. One of them on Mahoney Creek still existed about 1920 when the photo was taken showing a built-up limestone wall about 40 feet long and 18 feet high with a short wall at both ends. It had two openings, arched, in front, about four feet wide and four feet high. This looks as if it was built out from the north bluff but is no longer found on the property.


Burning lime, you ask? How can you burn rocks? Interestingly, it takes a lot of heat to change limestone into lime. (Now for a little chemistry lesson.)

Limestone is a form of calcium carbonate which was formed over millions of years from the bodies of marine creatures. Lime is a form of calcium oxide, the difference being what we now call a greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. By heating the limestone to about 1600 ºF, the carbon dioxide is released, resulting in the production of lime.

Lime production in the 18th and 19th century was accomplished by stacking limestone rocks (about the size of your fist) above a wood fire, and letting it heat up. To do this, kilns were built that were not much more than a large chimney with openings at the bottom to feed wood into the kiln, and a hoist or feeding method at the top to place the limestone rocks in the kiln above the fire. While the fire burned, the heat rose up the chimney through the gaps between the rocks, heating them up until the reaction had occurred.


A good example of a restored 19th century lime kiln can be seen west of Batavia in Polo, Illinois. Known as the Buffalo Grove Lime


Kiln, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is an example of a "perpetual kiln." Firewood is was fed at the bottom while limestone rocks were fed from the top. The powdered lime fell into a chamber at the bottom of the kiln, where it was shoveled out and stored in barrels in the attached lime house. The kiln sits on the quarry floor in close proximity to the resources needed for lime production. The kiln was constructed of native limestone, quarried on its location in 1870. Between the kiln's outer limestone rock wall and the interior fire brick vertical column is a layer of dirt for insulation. A metal gabled roof was added at the top to prevent future deterioration. Attached to the kiln section is the dry shed/lime house.


The Batavia kilns were probably "periodic" kilns where fuel and limestone were loaded from the top and the lime was raked out at the bottom.

The need for lime kilns died out in the early 1900s as the method to produce portland cement became more high tech and cheaper. Over time, the stones from the kilns must have been scavenged and used for other purposes, as no vestigal remnants exist.



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