Volume Eleven

No. 4 


December, 1970



If there is a country in the world where concord, according to common calculation, would be least expected, it is America. Made up, as it is, of people from different nations, accustomed to different forms and habits of government; speaking different languages, and more different in their modes of worship, it would appear that the union of such a people was impracticable. By the simple operation of constructing government on the principles of society and the rights of men, every difficulty retires, and the parts are brought into cordial unison. - Thomas Paine





3:00 P.M.





An interesting program, appropriate for the Christmas Season, is being arranged by Miss Mary Snow. The refreshments will be served by Evan and Nellie James, Alice, Lucille and Arnold Gustafson. The Nominating Committee may have their report ready for the December meeting.Our fiscal year is January 1 to January 1. Dues are payable to - Miss Sadie Lundberg, 31 North Mallory Avenue, or any member of the Membership Committee. The Batavia Historical Society, will take this opportunity to thank the relatives and friends of the late Axel Nelson, for their gifts to us, as a Memorial to his memory, Our last meeting was on September 20, 1970.  


Mary Snow reported that the Q depot-museum exterior had been sandblasted. The wide battened boards were of white pine and showed a beautiful grain.  The Park Board had contracted for all of the limestone from the razed Kane County Home for the Aged, some 400 truck loads. This is to be used for seats and for a retaining wall along the east bank of the Fox River from the bridge south. Mr. Gerald Ruble, who had forty years of railroading to his credit, was the fascinating speaker. He had been a collector of railroad memorabilia for ten years, his basement was full of artifacts and he had brought many of his most interesting items in his collection to the meeting to show and explain. He told about railroading in the early days when links and pins were used to connect cars and many fingers of brakemen were lost in connecting them. The present automatic coupler changed this.  He has been to Japan and ridden on the famous fast Tokyo Express.


Since completing our last Newsletter, we have received mementos from the following people: Mrs. W. J. Wallace; Mrs. Wm. Bartelt; Mrs. Koch, St. Charles; Ralph Finley, Santa Barbara, California.


We were able to help a young lady from the Aurora College who was writing an essay on the flora, fauna and history of the Nelson's Lake area, west of town. We have a description of the Lake long before it was drained when Hugh Alexander used to pass the Lake on his way to school in 1859.  He then lived where John Maloney lives today. Mr. Alexander was the father of Mrs. Margaret Allan and the late Ms. Ethel Alexander.  Mrs. Allan let me take her father's description of the Lake to copy.  He says: " . . . the wild (passenger) pigeons came to the (Nelson's) Grove in multitudinous flocks and here I had a chance to show my Mimrodic activities and secured quite a string of these beautiful birds quite often.


The great resort for ducks, sandhill cranes, geese and even swans were on Nelson’s Lake.  

The margin of this lake was overgrown with a soft spongy vegetation with a sparse growth of the usual reeds, flags, rice and sawgrass. The surface was springy and a pole could be run down into the material to a depth of sixteen to twenty feet. Cattle would wander off in feeding till their legs would sink so that they could not withdraw them and then the poor creatures would flounder about 'till the entire surface was broken up and they would sink in the slime so that naught but their heads and horns would appear above the surface. It was pitiful as we passed by to hear the miserable beasts moan in such a fearful way. My brother and I, as well as many of our neighbors, rescued many by throwing a rope over their horns and pulling them to where they could gain a firm footing.  But doubtless many of them sank out of sight and were smothered in the mud.




I have just finished reading the book, The Great Platte River Road by Merrill J. Mattes. That was the road taken by the people traveling to Oregon, California and the Mormons going to Salt Lake City.  


The book says that an estimated 350, 000 used this road in the twenty-five years between 1841 and 1866.  Reading that statement, I wondered how many of that number were Batavians. I have a rather incomplete card index of prominent Batavia people from its beginnings in 1833 to the present day. I looked through this index and found six whom I think definitely took this road west. They were James Carr, Cornelius B. Conde, Steven Hill, Albert H. Jones, John Griffith and Samuel Wilson. I thought a short story about these people might be interesting based on my card file notes. James Carr left Maine, (where he was born in 1817,) in 1836. He went to Florida, then to New Orleans and later to New York State. Then he returned to Maine but he didn’t stay there.  He came to Kane County in 1839 and settled on the farm near his brother, west of Batavia.  He had been east for two years since moving here, on a railroad survey.  


In 1849 he went to California to stay for four years.  We don't know what he did there. Did he mine gold, survey the land or raise grain? In 1857 he went on a government survey. I wrote to Francis J. Carr, Clearwater, Florida to see if he knew anything more about James Carr. He said his grandfather Leonard Carr and his brother James Carr came together to Batavia in 1839 and both bought farms west of town at that time. Francis said his files give no more information about James Carr after that date. In another letter to me, Francis said, "Although I left Batavia over fifty years ago, I still think of it as home. . .”  By the way, he was the first Controller of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Later he was Vice President of the American Steel and Wire Co. He is now retired. Cornelius B. Conde, the great-great-grandfather of Neal J. Conde, Jr., left New York State in 1837, going to DuPage County where he was engaged in making wagons.  He came to Batavia in 1841, following the same business.  


In 1849 he drove an ox team overland to California, remaining there until 1851 mining gold with fairly successful results. He had several narrow escapes from the Indians while in California. Steven Hill, the grandfather of Mrs. C. E. Gormsen who recently moved to California herself, went to California during the 1849 gold rush remaining there ten years.  He left Batavia with twenty-three men and twelve wagons drawn by oxen. The group took two cows with them to provide milk on the long trip.  When he returned from California, he married Caroline Warne. They settled on a farm at Big Woods which he had purchased for $29.00 an acre. The above is from the Aurora Beacon News for March 8, 1948. John Griffiths came to Illinois from New York State in 1844. In 1852 he went overland with oxen to California. Two years later he was in the Indian Wars.  He returned to Illinois in 1857.  Five years later he bought a farm in Blackberry Township. In 1870 he bought a farm of 246 acres, two miles east of Batavia. Albert H. Jones was the brother-in-law of L. A. Desrosier, Civil War veteran.  


He came to DuPage County with his parents in 1838 where they bought a farm from the government. He lived on this farm for 39 years, then retired to live in Batavia. He went to California for three and one half years during the gold rush. We don't know how he went or how successful he was in mining gold. He returned to farming when he got back. Samuel Wilson left New York State in 1835 for a farm in Nelsons Grove west of Batavia. He came to Batavia in 1849 to live in a house which is still standing at 212 Main Street. He manufactured fanning mills and other agricultural implements. After gold was discovered in California, Wilson made two trips overland with cattle and horses to that future state, returning both times by way of Panama to New York and by rail to Batavia.  He was also engaged in gold mining in California for several years. His daughter Mary became Mrs. E. C. Newton. I am not sure when James Latham went to California. He was one of the early settlers in Batavia, coming in 1834. He lived here long enough to own a subdivision named for him as well as a street later, but I have no date when he went west.


The above six people were obviously not the only Batavians who went to California during the gold rush. Do you know of any others? Or, do you know of any Batavia people who went to Oregon during the years from 1841 to 1866?


In 1966 the Batavia Historical Society received a priceless book from Mrs. Corinne Robinson titled, “Batavia's Celebrities, 1908 and 1909.” It is a book of 505 photographs, 2 1/4 by 3 1/4 inches, taken by Tracy Holbrook of Batavia men of that period. This book was given by Leslie Holbrook, Tracy’s brother, to Mrs. Robinson. The phsotos were taken anywhere, on the streets or in the stores or homes and are arranged four on a page. They are in remarkably good condition. We have numbered the pages and made a list of the men in the order of their appearance. Now we have just finished an alphabetical list so that any photo can be easily found.  


We remember about one-half of the men. Remember these pictures were taken 61 and 62 years ago. We owe Tracy Holbrook a tremendous debt of gratitude for taking photos of this cross section of Batavia men so long ago. Tracy Holbrook was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Emanuel Holbrook. He was a famous violinist, touring the U. S, four times. In 1903 he played by invitation in the White House for President Roosevelt and 600 invited guests. According to Frank Smith, both Tracy and Leslie were born in the house on the southwest corner of East Wilson and South Van Buren Streets. Later they moved into the house now occupied by the Johnson Funeral Home.

We are happy that the Society could loan several old school photos to the Batavia High School Graduating Class of 1970 for the Centennial issue of the Echo, the school annual. It is a most artistic and complete book and we commend all those who had a hand in its development. We received a complimentary copy of the Echo.


Our book, Batavia, Past and Present would make an excellent gift at $1.00 each.


And finally, We wish you all a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS and a HAPPY NEW YEAR.