Volume Thirteen

No. 3


Consecutive 51         


September, 1972


Published by the Batavia Historical Society


An institution is the lengthened shadow of one Man::: all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons. Ralph W. Emerson in Self Reliance.








Mrs. Peg Bond -

SpeakerSubject . . . . to be announced later.

Museum, Depot

Planning Zoning, Teaching, Art, Educational ??Refreshments will be servedRev. Gustav Lund, pastor of the Bethany Lutheran Church was the speaker at our May meeting.  His subject was not so much the history of the Bethany church as it was about the Swedish Migration to Illinois and especially, to Batavia.  He answered the questions, why did they leave Sweden?  Why did they come to Batavia, or the Fox Valley? ****Old Timers don't like to see changes in customs, changes in the ownership of stores and homes.  However, change must come.  So, we regret to announce the transfer of the old W. L. Anderson store (Mary Anderson owner) to Ms. Donali.  And the transfer of Cornelia Snow's home to the LaSalle National Bank, as Trustee.  We welcome the new Owners and Operators to Batavia, and know the former owners will always support and be loyal to Batavia. JULY 20 .... We had a good visit with Pauline Campbell and Ruth Northrup.  Pauline told us of her plans to leave the Ranch at Ridgway, Colorado and move to a nearby Motor Court.  She has found the work at the Ranch beyond her endurance, even though enjoyable.  She brought here to give to the Society, a number of her lovely photographs, including 23 prints, mostly 10 x 14 inches in size mounted on l6x20 matt board; they are superb -- Prize winners.

On August 9th Wm. B. VanNortwick, the author, sent us two copies of his book entitled, “Van Nortwick Genealogy".  One was for the Batavia Public Library and the other for the Historical Society. Bill has given the printing of this book much time and loving care.  He traces the Van Nortwick line clear back to the Children's Crusade.  The section from 1833 on will be most interesting to Batavians because of the local history.  There are several letters between William and John Van Nortwick.  The Father-Son relationship is cordial. The Board meeting was August 16.  The chief concern was the opening of the Museum in the old Burlington Depot maybe by late Fall.  Mary Snow, representing the Park Board, presented a possible procedure of a joint venture.  This would include clean and decorate the first floor for immediate use and the second floor for future development and improvement.  Immediate repairs would include proper installation of utilities, the cleaning and refinishing of the floors and walls.  Maybe a door replacing the west window to give an entrance away from the tracks. Harold Patterson and Phil Talbot were appointed by the board to meet with two members of the Park Board to draw up specific proposals.  


At the present time, the Historical Society will only use the big north room for records and exhibits while the Park Board will utilize the two smaller rooms on the other side of the foyer for offices. The chief riddle is -- how to make $8,000, which is the amount of Historical capital, cover the architect's estimate of $24,000 for a complete remodeling project. Lucile Gustafson, reporter This is the year of the Centennial of the C. W. Shumway and Sons Foundry, a business owned by the Shumways for the entire 100 years.  If you have any contributions or stories about the Foundry, send them to our Historian John Gustafson. We received some artifacts from Mrs. Emerson Phelps and Ralph Finley, Santa Barbara, California. Remember, that we still have copies of the book, "Batavia Past and Present" on sale at Johnson's Drug Store and the Library for $1.00. History is made by Us and preserved by Us.



J.G. 1/26/71 The passing of Allie Johnson brought to my mind the importance of the ice industry here in days gone by.  Allie visited me in November of 1961 and told me about his father's interest in ice harvesting.  In fact, his long suit, his life, was seeing that some of the ice houses along the Fox River were filled with ice, consequently he even was nicknamed, "Ice-boss Johnson." Allie said his father was foreman for the J. P. Smith & Sons of Chicago who had a huge ice house on the east side of the river about where the Boat Club building now is.  Then he was foreman for a while of an ice-cutting company at Williams Bay, Lake Geneva.  


They wanted him to take charge of a big plant at Lake Calumet but he didn't want to leave Batavia. Allie said that J.P. Smith & Sons, later the Knickerbocker Ice Company had a house just east of the late L.E. Wolcott's home, north of Batavia on the west side of the river, also.  An elevator, made of an endless chain with oak cross-pieces about every four feet, went under the tracks and out into the water thirty or more feet.  This was operated by steam power.  The ice blocks were hoisted into the huge house with this elevator.  The structure burned down in the early 1900's. The company harvested two sizes of ice blocks, one was for large ice boxes of the meat markets and saloons, the other size was for the homes.  All of this ice went to Chicago at the rate of two carloads a day.  This company also had a large house in Aurora near Broadway.  John Benson ran this plant.  Allie said that the local concerns were small compared with the houses owned by the Chicago companies.  They employed 125 men in the harvest. My memory is hazy about much of the ice harvesting and I can find very little in books or magazines to jog my memory.  I was a very poor skater so I didn't go skating very much, therefore I didn't observe the harvesting procedure too frequently.  As I recall it, the south part of the Pond, just north of the West Wilson Street bridge, was used by skaters.  Then a section north of this and opposite the first ice house, was operated by John Micholson.  


The west bank of the river was used as an ice field.  I remember the elevator from the ice house that extended down into the river in the west end of the channel cut from the field.  This elevator consisted of two link chains about fifteen inches apart to which the oak cross pieces were attached.  There were sprocket wheels at both ends of the elevator which operated it, driven by steam power.

I recall that the area from which the ice was to be harvested, was cleared of snow.  Then a man with a marker drawn by a single horse marked the field both ways about twenty-four inches apart.  The marker was followed by a plow which, as I remember it, was a flat blade with coarse teeth on the bottom side and steered with two plow handles.  This followed the marks made previously and cut grooves in the ice to nearly its full depth.  If the field was small, the ice was sawed by a man with a hand saw.  Thickness was a variable and ran from eight-to twenty-eight inches thick.  Ice ten to twelve inches thick was just right.  Only rarely, when the winter was open and it was a case of now or never, was ice harvested less than eight inches thick. After the ice cakes were thus nearly separated by the plow, men with long-handle chisels pried the cakes loose, starting at the channel end.  Other men guided these chunks with pikes to the elevator where they were raised by the elevator to the proper level and slid down to their proper place in the increasing stock pile.  If my memory does not fail me, the blocks were stored on end, one against the other with shavings packed between the ice pile and the inside wall of the building, a space about one foot wide.  


The harvest was continued until the house was filled or the weather turned too warm to harvest good ice. There were several ice houses along the river, most of them along the Pond where there was little or no current.  The late Frank Smith in his articles entitled, "Batavia of 1875" published in the Batavia Herald in April of 1948, lists three houses.  The first one was north of the old Norris & Doty building, the red frame structure on the northwest corner of N. Water and Houston Streets.  "This was a large building," he said, "probably built as an ice house by a man named McCullough.  I don't remember that any ice was put in there but it was used to store ice cutting machinery and also as a barn."  Then Mr. Smith said there was an ice house east of the late L.E. Wolcott's home on N. Batavia Avenue, confirming Allie Johnson's report. Also, a third one east of the Fox River Sanitarium. William Davis sent me a letter and a sketch of the Fox River locating the ice houses as he remembered them.  Following his sketch, the first ice house on the west bank was John Micholson's, a little north of Houston Street.  North of Maple Lane, the L. E. Wolcott location, was a small house along the C&NW tracks.  North of that and east of Timber Trail was the location of the Knickerbocker ice house.  Mr. Davis says that on the east river bank between Logan and Gore Streets, were the two ice houses of Jerome Parce and William Eager.  He also says that at one time artificial ice was made in a north basement of the B.D. Price building. There are some discrepancies in the names and locations of the ice houses by the three recorders which is understandable.  It seems to me, however, that it is better to record this industry as those of us remember it even if there are some errors and blank spots in our memories.

I have a note which appeared in the BATAVIA NEWS of November 8, 1872 that a Weston McCullough was tearing down his old ice house and was building a much larger one.  In 1910 the Challenge Company purchased the Knickerbooker property and used it as a lumber yard. There were other dealers here who harvested and stored ice but my notes do not locate their houses.  John Micholson sold his ice business to Gus Peterson and Gus Lundberg.  This partnership later sold out to Henry Kahlke.  In 1900 Hunter & Griffith went into the artificial ice business and had a large quantity of ice stored in a house on South Water Street.  This ice was made from city water. We lived in the last house on South Water Street from 1903 to about 1908.  Just east of our house on the quarry bank was a lot of wood shavings.  Dad took advantage of these shaving and tried to raise a crop of potatoes in them with miserable results-they were 'nubbins' because of lack of nourishment.  This must have been the location of the Hunter & Griffith ice house which was removed before we moved down there.  Bellevue Place Sanitarium harvested their own ice from the quarry and stored it in a ice house on their own premises.  All of the ice houses mentioned have been torn down. I don't think there were many out-of-towners who came here to work on the ice.  Most of the men were Batavians who had summer jobs and looked to this winter work to eke out a living. About twenty-five men were needed to set up a complete organization to handle the ice harvest.  If the weather and ice were good, the dealers here supplied as many as 500 carloads to the surrounding towns.  Of course, some years, fortunately only a few, produced little or no ice for storing.  In 1891 there was only a little five to seven inch thick ice produced and that in the month of March.  In 1921 the winter was open, there was no ice harvest. To Be Continued