THE BATAVIA HISTORIAN

Volume Fifty-Six

No. 2

Summer 2015

 


 

BOYHOOD MEMORIES OF LIFE ON THE FOX RIVER AND THE DEPOT POND 

by Norman Freedland, Batavia High School Class of 1958

 

I loved growing up on the west side of Batavia, during the 1940’s and the 1950’s. It was a great ongoing adventure. My boyhood memories, whether in summer or in winter, are filled with many of my carefree escapades on the Fox River and the old Pond.


During those carefree summers, when my mother went to work, she would say “Norman be home for supper and don’t go down to the river.” So, as soon as she left, I would call my buddies, Steve Nelson and Denny Swanson and we would go to the river. We skipped stones, built rafts and we fished. We fished both sides of the Pond, from Wilson Street north to Duck Island and mainly caught bullheads and bluegills. After dinner, my mother would always scold me for not listening to her instructions about NOT going down to the river.


I often wondered and I later learned, how my mother always knew when I went to the river. My Uncle Ernie worked at the G.R.E.W. foundry, which was located under Wally’s Steffano’s Body Shop and next to the boat piers and docks. Uncle Ernie would always tell her that he saw me playing or fishing on the river. I think that he secretly wished he was still was a young boy and having the freedom which I was enjoying.

 

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One day, Steve and I were fishing at the Body Company’s race, which was a stream which connected the east side of the Pond to the main river channel. As we were fishing, we witnessed a horrific incident. We watched a man drive his car down to the west side boat ramp, removed his glasses, his watch and wallet, tied his hands behind his back and jumped off the pier into the water. Both the Batavia Fire and Police Departments responded but it was too late. This haunting childhood memory was fortunately replaced by all of our happier adventures on the river.


In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, Batavia held the River Rumpus Celebration, on July 4th. Speedboats raced the oval course from Duck Island to the Wilson Street Bridge. Special boats pulled water skiers over the ski-jump, which was located on the Pond, just north of where McDonalds stands today. One exciting event was Bill Schrauth, driving his speedboat and pulling Bosco Hall, who was sitting on a stool, while balanced on a saucer and how the crowd cheered them on! Bob White also had a runabout and all of us took turns waterskiing behind it, going up north to Fabyan’s and back into the pond. Quite a thrill, except that Bob didn’t know how to swim, go figure. When we ran out of gas, we would all chip in a quarter or so, and usually walk up Houston Street to Avenue Chevrolet’s gas station and buy more gasoline to continue our waterskiing adventures.
One memorial river adventure which Steve Nelson may wish to forget, is that he was dared by Denny Swanson, to swim across the pond in March, which he did and won the $1.00 bet.


On the west side of the pond, just north of Wilson Street, 10 boat piers were built by the Batavia Boat Club, where many nice boats were docked. Roy Feece had a fast runabout, Ruck Clark had a large, ugly, wooden boat that he named “Mary Spareribs”, L.R. Johnson had nice cabin cruiser and Mr. Soreson had a boat named “Ruthless”, because his wife Ruth, would not ride in it.


I had a small boat, with a 1 V2 horsepower, Evinrude motor and a small trailer, which I hooked behind my bicycle when I wanted to go fishing. If none of my buddies were available to go fishing, my dog, Budgy, would always go with me; see the attached picture.
However, in 1952, while chained to one of those piers, my favorite boat mysteriously disappeared, probably stolen by those Eastside bullies like Billy Klein or Jerry Miller. I’ll never know what happened to my boat.


As memories of summer fun faded, we all looked forward to the ice-skating on the pond. Ice skating was always fun but not perfect. Most times, the ice was cleared, but not by a Zamboni, but by Mr. Les Bex, who used a tractor he borrowed from the Batavia Body Company and he did the plowing on his own time. Once, while assisting with the clearing operation, Lenny Johnson drove his truck onto the ice, it broke through the ice but was pulled out to safety. Lights for night skating were marginal, possibly two wires with about five bulbs, each was strung across the pond. But someone always had a huge bonfire burning to help warm the skaters. Thanks to the efforts of many community members, our skating was a fun and free activity.


Once, while Don and Wally Benson and I, were skating north toward the present gazebo, we discovered Dave Metal and Larry Ridgway, both had fallen through the ice. Don and Wally jumped into the water and pushed the two freezing skaters outwards toward me. Dave and Larry survived and the rescue episode made the front page of the Aurora Beacon News.


We all skated at night and on weekends and played hockey and crack the whip. I pulled skaters on the ice with my Whizzer motorbike. We raced someone’s ice boat with our motorcycles, until Police Officer O.T. Benson chased us off the ice. Sad to say, our wild skating adventures were not pictured in the now famous watercolor, “Skating on the Pond”, that appeared on the cover the Saturday Evening Post Magazine in 1958.


We fondly remember and perhaps are lucky to have survived, our great adventures on the river and the pond. Our carefree boyhood fun on that original pond, ended in the 1960’s, when the building housing Wally’s Body Shop and the G.R.E.W. Foundry caught on fire and was completely destroyed. The city made an important decision and all of the pond area was completely filled in, from Water Street to the north side of Houston Street. The McDonalds, Harris Bank and the Fifth-Third Bank buildings have replaced the original pond areas.

 

 



Follow-up on the Third Rail to Third Grade article and Glenwood Park by Terry Taylor

 

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A retired farmer, who is an avid reader of our newsletter, commented that he knew that in 1954- 5, all of the Glenwood Barracks were dismantled but 3 of them were purchased by a local farmer, who dismantled them and rebuilt them on his farm Deerpath Road. This picture shows the last barrack with the other cement foundations along side of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Growing up in Batavia during the 1940 and 1950’s
Steve Nelson, BHS Class of 1958

 

My family had a beautiful Irish Setter named, Lady. My brother and I paid $75.00 for her, from the money we earned from our paper routes. Lady was friendly, outgoing and liked by everyone in the neighborhood. People would even call us from the surrounding blocks to ask about her heath if they had not seen nor had a visit from her looking for her treats. F & H food store was a two visit, per day, for Lady, as the butcher would always give her bones. When she received her bone, she would take the short cut home, through the backyards, to enjoy her treat.


When Lady came into heat, she at times would escape from our home. My brother would jump on his bike and go looking for her in one direction, I would go in another direction and our mom would get in the car and go in another direction until someone found her. When Lady was not in heat, Lady was would roam the neighborhood, which was against the city ordinance. Ruck Clark who was Chief of Police, kidded my dad, that he would one day catch her and fine him. Lady must have known as she avoided police cars. One evening, Ruck Clark called my dad to inform him that the police had Lady, so come to the police station, pay the fine and pick up his dog. My dad told Ruck that he was not paying the fine, and Ruck was to go ahead and “gas” her, all the time knowing that Lady was safe at home. My dad proceeded to tease Ruck that he did not know the difference between our beautiful dog and the uglier dog which resided on Union Avenue. Lady was a special dog and was a true friend, at all times.

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There was a group of us (Terry Carlson, Dennis Holm, Bob Becker, Chuck Clark and Jerry Miller) that had been out and about in my 1948-1949 Chevy. I dropped off all the guys and “Millie” was the last one to be dropped off. He was an eastsider and lived on State Street. Somehow “Millie” made me a $1.00 bet that I could not drive home on McKee St via Wilson, Batavia Avenue and then McKee, in reverse. Well, I did it, but it was 1-2 AM and I am also pretty sure ‘"Millie” never paid me!


Denny Swanson, Norm Freedlund and I, decided to take a toboggan ride down the Quarry stairs. Well, we smashed the toboggan, but went back to Swanson’s Hardware and got another toboggan. Besides one smashed toboggan, Denny also ended up with a broken arm.
In the spring of 1950, Denny Swanson, Norm Freedlund and I, were playing down by the “Pond” on Batavia Body Company property. The ice had been off the river for less than a week. Denny bet me I could not swim across the pond to the boat docks. Since I owed Denny $1.00,1 told him I would swim it, if, the $1.00 debt would be written off and he agreed.


It was the coldest swim ever and honestly do not know how I made it. We walked to my home on McKee Street and I was soaking wet and shivering. We told my mom that I fell in. Hopefully, my judgement today would be better.

 

 

 


 

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER VISITS BATAVIA IN 1919
By Mayor Jeff Scheilke & Glenn Miner

 

Another important person visits Batavia in 1919 and the visit was remembered in a story by John Gustafson, and relayed by Mayor Jeff Scheilke in his Memorial Day address on May 31, 2015.


At the end of World War I, the US War Department wanted to know if the country’s roads could handle the long distance, emergency movements, of motorized Army units, across the entire nation. President Woodrow Wilson’s administration authorized the Trans Continental Motor Convoy, with 80 military vehicles and 280 officers and enlisted personnel, was to travel the proposed route called “The Lincoln Highway”, America’s first interstate roadway. The Convoy set out on July 7, 1919, from Washington, DC, with San Francisco, California as their final designation.

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According to John Gustafson, our first historian who shared this tale 40 years ago, this convoy was a bit of a national history story on our doorstep this day. In the early afternoon of July 21, 1919, a military convoy of 80 vehicles, along with a few horses and 280 members of the US Army, came up the hill (Route 31) from Mooseheart and arrived at the Batavia Westside Cemetery. An advance party of soldiers had anticipated that the hike up the steep incline of that roadway, would create an overheating problem for the convoy’s vehicles and sure enough that observation had come true. Responding to the problems at hand, a small crew of city employees were present with a water tank wagon, to provide the needed refill of vehicle’s radiators. To accomplish this task, the convoy had pulled to a halt, took a break and enjoyed the new found Batavia hospitality. During this stop, the soldiers reportedly walked over to admire the newly erected Newton Soldiers Monument, which had just been officially dedicated 52 days before on Memorial Day of 1919.


The convoy quickly consumed the available water supply at the cemetery and it was suggested that troops move down the street to the site of the new high school building. Here existed bigger water supply, including a horse watering trough on Batavia Avenue in front of the school. At this second stop, they received a cordial greeting from the folks found around town and townspeople brought food, cookies, pies and other local treats for the soldiers.


On July 21 st, the day they visited Batavia, the troops had camped the night before in Chicago Heights and their goal was to reach DeKalb before nightfall. This journey took over 10 hours to accomplish.


In the image of the wilderness scouts of the 19th century, Army personnel mounted on Harley- Davidson’s, instead of horses, would drive ahead of the convoy to check out the road conditions that lay just ahead. Many vehicles broke down, got stuck in dust, quicksand, and mud, and sank when the roads and bridges collapsed underneath them. 62 days after it left Washington DC, the convoy reached San Francisco. It had covered 3251 miles, averaging 58 miles a day, at an average speed of 6 miles an hour and chronicling 230 motor accidents. The official report of the War Department of the convoy, concluded that the existing roads in the United States were absolutely incapable of meeting the Army’s long distance emergency movement requirements.


One of the Army observers on the convoy was Armored Corp representative, Lieut. Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower, a 28-year-old officer who had grown bored with his peace time posting at Fort Meade, Virginia, and he volunteered for this mission.

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His summary report is as follows:
“The convoy made its way west, via the Lincoln Highway, passing through 350 towns, over half the distance traveled was on either dirt roads, wheel paths, desert sands, or mountain trails. He commented that the roads they had encountered varied from average to nonexistent and that from Illinois westward, the convoy traveled mostly on dirt roads and practically no more pavement was encountered until reaching California.”


The experience which Eisenhower later described as a genuine adventure, left a lifelong impression on him 37 years later, as President United States, he signed into law, the Federal Highway Act of 1956, funding the national system of Interstate and Defense Highways.
So far, the archives of the Batavia Historical Society do not contain any photographs of this event. It is hard to believe that even in this early period of photography, that no one had snapped a picture of this most memorable, historic happening along Batavia Avenue. Does anyone have any old pictures stored away showing a military presence along Batavia Avenue?

 



UPDATE ON MY PEDDY DIARY REQUESTS
By Glenn Miner, Historian,
Batavia Historical Society
 
 Last spring I asked if anybody had any information on the Peddy Dairy, which served Batavia until of the late 1960s. I received some stories and then I received a box in the mail. This box came from Bridget and Ron Link and inside it was a clear glass milk bottle. This milk bottle was embossed with the “Peddy Dairy, Batavia Illinois” “Grade A, Milk”. There is a large “P” on the bottom and the numbers “44”, which were probably the original manufacturing year. The most interesting feature is under and around the neck it says “A Bottle of Milk is a Bottle of Health.”
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Bridgett and Ron found this bottle in Nebraska where they met a milk bottle collector who thought that the bottle should be returned to the town of its origin. The collector indicated that she bought it at a flea market and has had the bottle for a long time. The Links’ told the woman that they were going to donate it to our Depot Museum and she heartily agreed to part with it. It is the only Peddy Milk Bottle we have in our collection and we want to thank Bridget and Ron for their generosity.
 
 

 

A LOOK AT THE BATAVIA-GENEVA FOOTBALL GAME IN 1940
George H. Scheetz, Director, Batavia Public Library

 

 

School traveled up-river for its annual rivalry game with Geneva Community High School, won by Batavia, 7-0. The coaches were Carl T. Nelson for Geneva and James A. Cook for Batavia.


The Venue
The game was played on Geneva’s original, historic Burgess Field (1922-1974), which was located in the Pleasant View Addition to Geneva, north of Ford Street and west of McKinley Avenue, nestled between what is now the Geneva Community High School (opened in 1958 at 415 Logan Avenue) and the site of Coultrap Elementary School (opened in 1923 as the old high school at 1113 Peyton Street).
The address of Geneva Community High School is now 416 McKinley Avenue. Coultrap Elementary School was razed in 2013.
The field was dedicated on Saturday, 7 October 1922, and named in honor of Frank A. Burgess, who passed away on Saturday, 13 May 1922. Burgess was founder of the Burgess-Norton Manufacturing Company and first president of Geneva High School District No. 149, created in 1920—and which, in 1952, became part of Geneva Community Unit School District No. 304.

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The Nicknames
In 1940, Batavia’s nickname (in the Batavia Herald) was “Crimson” or, occasionally, “Red Raiders.” In connection with the player scoring the winning touchdown (above), the “Batavia Banter” column in the Batavia Herald once reported:—
The monicker “Vikings,” which for many years has been the label used by sportswriters when identifying Batavia athletic teams, is about as appropriate this year as the “Fighting Irish” title is to Notre Dame . . . . most of this year’s high school heavyweight football eleven was composed of students claiming German and English descent .... Arnie Stenman was the only “Viking” to play a major role [Friday, 11 November 1938, p. 8],
Geneva’s nickname was “the Blue and White.” By 1942, Geneva (in the Batavia Herald) was the “Vikings.” Batavia became the “Bulldogs” in 1945.


The Rivalry
The Batavia Herald described the teams as “the two bitterest rivals in the history of the circuit” [Friday, 25 October 1940, p. 9]; the circuit was the Little Seven Conference, which was organized during the winter of Harold E. “Red” Grange’s senior year at Wheaton High School (1921-1922). With the win, Batavia’s all-time record against Geneva (1913-1940) stood at 11 wins, 9 losses, and 2 ties.
The 1940 game was one of only four times (in 17 meetings) that Batavia defeated Geneva’s legendary coach of 20 years, Carl T. Nelson. From 1925-1944, Nelson’s career record against Batavia was 11 wins, 4 losses, and 2 ties. During that time, Nelson faced eight different Batavia coaches.


Only four Batavia coaches either defeated or tied Geneva’s Coach Nelson. J. A. Weir won the game in 1925 and John W. “Johnny” Mauer tied the game in 1926. Jerry G. Sykora, in six meetings, won the games in 1931-1932, and tied the game in 1933. Finally, Cook won the game in 1940, which is where this article began.

 

 


 

News from the Museum

by Chris Winter

 

Summer is here and the museum has had an increase in visitors with the warmer weather. We are participating again in the Summer Passport Program for children. Families will enjoy visiting the museum sites in Kane and DuPage Counties and having the passport booklet stamped. Incentive prizes are given at the end of the summer. Passports are available at the museum and the Batavia Public Library.


“Batteries Not Included” is the feature exhibit at the Depot Museum this summer. Stop by and see toys and games from the past that are powered by the imagination. We even have an interactive table where you can try your hand at Jacks, Pick-Up Sticks, Jacob’s Ladder and Cat’s Cradle. The exhibit will be on display until Sept 6. The Depot Museum is offering extended hours during the summer months. We are open Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 2:00-4:00 pm; Saturday & Sunday from 12:00-4:00 pm. Sneak preview for the fall exhibit: Batavia Schools, Sept 8 - Nov 22. More details to come.

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Staff is planning the Batavia Quilt & Textile Show at the Eastside Community Center on July 17-19. More than 150 quilts will be on display that weekend along with a vendor hall, free quilt technique demonstrations and educational programs. This is a major fundraiser that will benefit the museum exhibits and educational programming.


For more information visit www.bataviaquiltshow.com or LIKE us on Facebook www.facebook.com/BataviaDepotMuseum. Please plan to visit the show - and bring a friend!

 


 

 

 History Returns to Batavia Civil War Encampment

September 11,12,13

Sponsored by the Batavia Depot Museum

 

Friday, Sep 12
Batavia West Cemetery
7:00 PM Opening Ceremony
8:00 PM Cemetery Talk at Newton Monument


Saturday, Sep 13
Batavia Riverwalk
11:15 am - 4:00 PM On-going activities for children and adults.
Activities include President Lincoln Speaks, Ladies Tea & Fashion Show, Cannon drill, horse demo, signals demo, medical demo, medical induction, troop drill, kids drill, and music in the museum.


Sunday, Sep 14
Batavia Riverwalk
10:00 am - 3:30 PM On-going activities for children and adults.


Wednesday, Sep 10
Program: Railroads of the Civil War
7:00 PM Batavia Public Library


All Events Are Free!
Watch for full schedule in the Batavia Park District Fall brochure and in the local newspapers