THE BATAVIA HISTORIAN

Volume Forty-One

No. 1 


January, 2000




Almost 90 Years in Batavia

A Conversation with Russell Nelson


For most of our readers, Bussy Nelson requires no introduction. Born in 1911, he has lived his entire life in Batavia. Joining the plumbing business of his father, Martin O. Nelson, after graduation from high school in 1929, Bussy continued the business, along with his brother Earl, until his retirement in 1976. Many of us recall Bussy and Earl's prompt responses to our plumbing emergencies over those years.


Bussy is also well known for his memory of happenings in Batavia, so Elliott Lundberg and your editor recently interviewed him at his home on McKee Street: the following story is excerpted from that interview. "My dad," Bussy began, "was born in a little house up where the Campana building is now located. Later on, John Nottolini owned that house in which he had a small tavern.


My dad had three sisters. His father, Peter Nelson, died when he was about four years old, so my dad didn't remember much about him. My grandmother Nelson, who came from Sweden, had to support the family.


Up in Geneva where the fire station is located on First Street, there was a building that used to be a Methodist Church. My grandmother was the janitor there, and her family lived in the basement of the church.


Later my grandmother lived here on McKee Street. Auntie Norden, one of my grandmother's sisters, lived in the house west of Chemp Nelson's store on Houston Street. The three sisters and we went to church at the Swedish Methodist Church on the corner McKee and Lincoln streets, where untie was a Sunday School teacher. vol_41_1.jpg

I believe that, at one time, she and the other two were the three oldest living sisters in the United States.


My grand father Anderson helped build that church. "My dad had to quit school," Bussy continued, "to help support his family. I think he only went to the fourth grade. But even as a kid he was big. He learned the butcher trade at a shop in Geneva. At that time, he said, they went out in the field, shot the cattle, and skinned and butchered them right on the spot.


Later he became a fireman on the Northwestern Railroad. If the engineer didn't like you, he said, he could raise heck by his demands while you threw the coal into the fire box, at a certain spot, to get the steam up.


The Start of the Plumbing Business


"Dad learned the pipe fitting business at the Gluco works by the dam up in Geneva the place where Shodeen is putting up those new buildings. A family named Pope ran that. They had big, hand-fired steel boilers with a manhole on top. They yanked the fire out of the boiler one time to clean it, but there was still a lot of heat inside. My dad had to crawl in to clean the lime and stuff out.  


He was a large man, and when he puffed up from the heat, he couldn't get out so he put his hands up while they pulled him out, taking off some of his hide. After that, he had claustrophobia. Years later, he couldn't even pull down the shades when he undressed.


"After a while, Dad came down to Batavia where Dr. Daniels, who owned the Bellevue Place at that time, became his friend and asked him why he didn't start his own plumbing business. My dad said that he had no money to start with. Dr. Daniels told him not to worry about it, that he would back him, and he started my dad in business. That was in 1909, and he had his own plumbing shop in the back of the house.


"Then he rented a store on south Batavia Avenue, the second store north of Main Street on the west side of the street. Billy Hendrickson had a grocery store on the corner, and my dad rented his store from a Mr. Burton. Adolph Johnson, the father of Red Johnson, had a tin shop in the back of the store, and his daughter, Ruth Grehn, was my dad's bookkeeper.


Later he had George Nelson and Jim Averill working for him. "Dad did all the heating and plumbing work on the high school, later the junior high school, which was built in 1914 and torn down recently.


John Ekman was the contractor. The school had a central clock, which is now down at the Depot Museum. A couple of bellows were connected to piping that went to each class --every minute the bellows would operate and change the hands on all the clocks in the school. The boiler in the school was tapped for a four-inch main, and the workers were breaking wrenches tightening the four-inch pipe.


Sherm Huntley from Geneva, the boss on the job, had a brother-in-law who worked for Fairbanks, Morse & Company in Chicago, and he arranged to borrow a chain wrench that could be used to tighten the pipe. It was about six feet high, almost too heavy to lift.


"When my dad first started in business, automobiles had just come out, and he took Leo Opperman's father into partnership as an auto mechanic. There were only a couple of autos in town, however, so he didn't have much work, while my dad had most of the plumbing business in town. Finally my dad got tired of splitting the profits with Opperman and disbanded the partnership.



"My parents had the Moberg brothers build the house next door to where we now live in 1923 or 1924. Joe, the older brother, was the boss, but he died and Harry, AI and Art finished the job, with help from the father, who built the oak buffet that is still there.


 vol_41_2.jpgGrowing up in Batavia


We asked Bussy to tell us some of his memories of growing up. He re called the end of World War I in 1918. His father got them up early in the morning.


They found whistles and went downtown, just west of the bridge, where there was a big bonfire and a dummy of the Kaiser that they shot at. "I wish they had kept the old VanNortwick house on the northeast corner of Batavia Avenue and First Street," Bussy reminisced.


"It was a three story house, solid limestone, beautiful. I went through grade school with Billy VanNortwick at the McWayne School where


Grace McWayne was the firs grade teacher, I used to go over to Billy's house and up to the third floor where he had all kinds of toys. He was sort of sissified but a nice boy. His brother, Johnny, was different. I think Billy went to Culver Military Academy after finishing eighth grade in the Batavia schools. I delivered papers on Main Street and the side streets from Jackson down to Elm Street. I had over 100 papers to deliver.


To get them, we met the street car. The switch was right in front of where the Deluxe Cleaners is now; the car would stop, and they would throw the papers out in the street. We'd count out our own papers.


In bad weather, we would count them in a small building where a guy named Bobby Hunt ran a popcorn stand. Then we'd deliver the papers, putting them in the mailbox or on the porch, not like today when, as I complained once, they can't get the paper on our front porch that runs all across the front of the house.


"We always used to swim in the river -- that's where I learned how. I can't understand why they say the river isn't as clean as it used to be. Back then, everything was dumped in the river. We were in our teens and swam naked, no suits.


There was a big limestone rock where we swam on the west side; the east siders had a big flat rock up where the boat club is now. We'd take a plank from the Alexander Lumber Yard down on Water and Houston, and we'd haul it up to the swimming hole and make a diving board. The east siders would see it, and the next morning it would be gone -- they'd swim across and get it. 

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"Our father wasn't very tough on us he'd give us nearly everything. He bought us a Shetland pony from Billy Hendricksen, whose folks ran the -- stone quarry on River Street and lived - in the back end. Dad said that they bought two ponies, which came over from the Shetland Islands, and sold one to him. He didn't have a saddle or cart or anything, so Col. Fabyan furnished a saddle and bridle, a two seated cart and the harness, with nicely polished brass on the ear thing with a large N for Nellie, the colonel's wife."


The Fabyan Connection

We observed that apparently Bussy's father was well acquainted with Col. Fabyan. "Yes," Bussy replied, "my dad was a good friend of Col. Fabyan and did work up there for him. The Colonel used to go to Chicago and buy whole warehouses full of stuff. Sometimes he didn't even know what he was buying. Dad went up there on a Sunday and came back with a push mobile racing car. It was nicely painted and had a mahogany steering wheel and a tool box in the back of it. "My dad said he had one of the first automobiles in town, probably about 1910 or 1911, and was real proud of it. I think it was a Ford that you cranked on the side. It had high wagon wheels, not inflated tires. He took Nellie for a ride, and when he came back he couldn't cut the motor off.

It was probably too hot, so he had to keep going around and around on the driveway. "When square tubs first came out, we had a poster of one with a girl getting out of it. Col. Fabyan, who was quite a ladies man, said to my dad, 'Martin, if I buy the tub, can I have the girl?' My dad said sure, so Col. Fabyan bought the tub. When he got the bill, he sent it back and told my dad that he wasn't going to pay because Dad hadn't fulfilled the contract --he hadn't delivered the girl. So my dad went downtown and bought a big doll and sent it up there. Then Col. Fabyan paid the bill. I was working there when we put the tub in so it must have been about 1930 or 1931.

"At the south side of his land, Col. Fabyan had a greenhouse. My dad didall the piping, and the Colonel used to have him working up there weekends. My dad got tired of it, working up there weekends and carrying his lunch. One weekend he told Col. Fabyan that he had to go home because he had forgotten his lunch -he didn't go back. The next weekend a Japanese man came to the house with a big tray of food for my dad. There were Japanese working aU over the place. Every morning, one of Ihem would have to shoot off a cannon and raise the American flag. "We used to fish out on the island where the Colonel built a lighthouse.
On the south end, there was a large Roman-type swimming pool with columns on the side. Col. Fabyan would come down in his white flannel pants, patent leather pumps, and a turtleneck sweater, always with a couple of girls whom he would watch swimming. "The Colonel was a character. Tooley Johnson, son of Swan Johnson who had a store down at the corner of Batavia Avenue and First Street, went up and asked Col. Fabyan for a job. The Colonel said yes, he would hire him, and drew out a space on the ground, telling Tooley to dig down about four or five feet deep. So Tooley worked and got it all dug and went to the Colonel, asking what he wanted done with the dirt. 'Throw it back in the hole,' the Colonel said." Bussy remembers seeing the Colonel going to a show, always with a girl. His wife lived up there, but he never took her out. He never had a bed in his room, preferring to sleep in a hammock.
After the Colonel and his wife died, the estate sold all the property to the county. Bussy said that he knew the price was low, about $50,000 or so. Fritz Bergquist, our supervisor at that time, helped negotiate the transaction. Ebermans and the Vanity Theater Bussy recalls that a family named Eberman ran the Vanity Theater in Batavia. That was before talking pictures. Isora Eberman, the daughter,along with Gus and Paul Eberman ran the projectors. In those days, they would run a reel and then have an intermission while they changed the reel.
They used to put on a lot of cowboy shows like Tom Mix and Ken Maynard, and Isora would play the piano. When it would get to the exciting part, she would really pump on the piano. They had so many people in there at some of the shows that Bussy remembers people sitting on orange crates. Initially the Ebermans lived in the basement of the theater, with heat provided by the city's steam. 
Later when Joe Burke owned the theater, the city cut off the steam and the Nelsons installed a boiler. There was only one room in the basement, and Bussy doesn't know how the Ebermans all lived there -- but people in those days did! At some point, the Ebermans moved to the old Joel McKee house on north Batavia Avenue, then owned by Col. Fabyan.At least one older Batavian says that the house, now owned by the Halls, was used as a nursing home and that he was born there. Bussy says that was possible since Mrs. Eberman was a practical nurse who used to go out to care for people who were sick.

He remembers her wearing a white uniform.

Sports, Family and Work

Bussy went to Batavia High School where he played football and basketball in the late 1920s. "At that time, he says, "we had what they called the second team and the varsity. I played two years on both the football and basketballvarsity teams and was captain of the basketball team in 1929. Clarence Blacksmith was captain of the football team. Edward ("Ewey") Peterson, another member of Bussy's class, sat behind him in the assembly hall. In the morning and again at noon, students started out in the assembly hall.

 

My wife, Adelaide, lived way out on the east end of town and had to walk to school; at lunch time she had to walk home, eat, and then walk back to school, all in an hour's time. I graduated in 1929 and went to work for my dad. J helped before that time, but Isigned up as an apprentice when I got out of school. "I got married in 1939 when I was 28 years old," Bussy continued. We celebrated out 60th anniversary this year. Earl was a year younger than I was, but we had a younger brother, Howard, who later moved to Florida and lived in a beautiful house right on a golf course. I had an older sister, Adeline, who was a school teacher before marrying Gilbert Wood, an attorney. When my uncle, J. Edward Anderson, became mayor of Batavia, he appointed Gilley as city attorney. Gilley also acted as attorney for some company in Chicago and went in there every day.

 

"My mother's parents came over from Sweden. She was the only girl in the family. Besides J. Edward, she had two other brothers, John and Arthur "Smash" Anderson. The Andersons originally farmed the Van Burton farm on west Main Street just north of Nelson Lake. My mother remembered that there was quicksand in Nelson Lake -- cattle went down and got caught in the quicksand. There was also peat out there.

 

In later years, Paul Wasser operated the Batavia Soil Builders out there. Jim Benson, later Batavia building inspector, worked for Wasser. "When my brother, Howard, got out of school, he joined Earl and me as sort of apprentices in M.O. Nelson &  Sons. He married Margaret Anderson, who later died of cancer, and lived on the second floor of the Wood family home on north Washington (now lincoln) Avenue.

 

Leonard Johnson, who lived on north Jefferson Street owned Ruggles and Ruggles, manufacturers of flue cleaners on north River Street. There was a heat treating business in there, and Howie used to stop in. The guy who owned that business, a nice fellow but a rounder, asked Howie to go into partnership with him -- even though Howie knew nothing about heat treating. Howie's partner used togo around with show girls -- he'd call them when they went out of state and run up big phone bills. Finally he decided to quit but was good enough to bring Fred Spuhler, who knew heat treating, out from Chicago. They took in another partner, a man who lived south of Mooseheart, but later sold the business, Seneca HeatTreating, to an outfit in Aurora. "Howie and I then got into the sewer cleaning business.

I used to go down at 4:30 after work, pick up Howie, and then go out on the sewer cleaning jobs. We wanted it for our plumbing business, but it got so big that somenights we had nine places to go to. I'd call people and ask them to leave some door open so we could come there later. Sometimes we wouldn't get home until 1:00 in the morning. Finally Howie took over the business, which his son, Tom, now runs. Tom lives out in DeKalb now; he works for the City of Geneva, but he still does the sewer cleaning." Green Pheasants The subject of the Green Pheasants came up since we knew Bussy had been involved with the club and had provided information for stories that had appeared in the newspapers. ''The Green Pheasants started about 1927 or 1928;' Bussy recalled, "and I got in in 1929 after I graduated from high school. I don't know where the name came from -- I've never seen agreen pheasant.

 

We rented the upstairs of Bob Guy's Garage on south Batavia Avenue where Abe and Doc's is now. We had the upstairs fixed up nice, with a radio, rugs on the floor, a ping pong table, and a shuffleboard court. We also had a kitchen and a little washroom. It was quite a hangout, and every Sunday we would go down there and play auction bridge, listen to the radio, and chew the fat. Every Sunday there was a gang down there. "The club had quite a membership. Businessmen such as Bert Johnson and Dick Larson belonged.

 

A member by the name of Jack Howse, who worked for a photography company in Chicago, took a picture of the members on the terrace behind the old Home Economics Building, a part ofthe high school. There were about 40 in that picture.

"Les Chelstrom was the first president of the Green Pheasants. They named the officers after parts of the pheasant. The president was the Supreme Beak, and they had the Left Wing and the Right Wing and others. The rules didn't allow us to bring a woman up there except on occasions when everybody was there.

 

We used to hold parties around Christmas time for the poor kids in town, and we'd give them clothes and candy and stuff. And in the summer we would have swimming down at the Quarry for the kids. "We had good football and basketball teams -- also a baseball team. I just played basketball. Les Chelstrom played first base on the baseball team, Johnny Mauer pitched, and George Cassel, Richie Marcuson and Ekie Benson also played. Although he never belonged to the Green Pheasants, Pinoke Johnson used to play on the teams. I think the Green Pheasants would still be going if it hadn't been for the Depression. Insurance was high, and guys weren't working and couldn't afford to pay the dues.

That's when it disbanded, The Great Depression "During the Depression," Bussy continued, "Walter Johnson at the Batavia National Bank had some houses up on Van Buren that the bank had taken back. He would call and ask us to go to one of them to fix a problem, but he would say, 'Don't do any more than you have to.' times were tough.

 

When we first got married, we rented a place on McKee Street, I think for $15 a month. Down at the Northwestern passenger depot, where the Old Kent Bank now is, they had canned goods and other stuff for people. Fritz Bergquist was the supervisor. Many people didn't want to take the food -- they had too much pride - but finally they had to do it. "Ginny Moore, a plasterer, and Einar Wicklund, a laborer, would drop in at our store down on Batavia Avenue and chew the fat as if they were working somewhere. They'd sit there half a day and then go home for lunch. Almost every day, they would come in; they had nothing to do. Nobody had anything to do."

Changes over the Years

In answer to the inquiry about changes he had seen over the years, Bussy replied, "We knew everyone back then. When people would call and say they had a plumbing problem, they didn't have to tell us where they lived. Now I don't even know the streets in town. "I quit working," he continued, "when I turned 65 in 1976, and Earl quit a year later.

 

This has been the story of a man, his family and a business. All three played important roles in Batavia's day-to-day life during the century just ended.

 

 


 

Greetings to New Members - and Other Matters

 

Since the last issue, Mr. and Mrs. F. Blazek, Alma Karas, and Joane O'Conner (Columbia, Missouri) have become Life Members. Other new members (from Batavia unless otherwise noted) include: Cathy and Jim Blazek (Malta, Illinois), Arlene Draft Buettin (Boca Grande, Florida), Sharon and Jason Davids, the Gunderson family, Marilyn Hughes (Oshkosh, Wisconsin), Alex Pepper, Virginia Scatterday (St. Charles), Robert Thorsen, Sylvia Kraft Walker (St. Charles), Pauline Ward, and John and Mary Lou White (Elburn).

 

We regret to report the death of Laura "lone" Blair, a charter member; Life Member Joseph Burton; Arnold Johnson: Life Member Arlene Nick; Life Member Harold Patterson, a former president of the Society and father of present board member Alma Karas; and Life Member Marian Swanson. We received a gift from Walter and George Kauth in memory of Harold Patterson.

 

 


 

 

 

What's New At the Museum?

 

The museum closed for the winter season on November 24. We have had a very busy year planning for the new addition --the Gustafson Research Center. Constructed has started, and we are still hoping to have the building completed by April. The footings and two exterior walls are in place, and the concrete floors will soon be poured.

 

Marilyn Robinson, Kathy Fairbairn, Chris Winter, and I have met with Mike Dixon, the architect, to choose the floor coverings and laminates for various surfaces. We will be planning a dedication ceremony as the building project progresses.

 

On November 19, in an effort to make the transition easier, Marilyn Phelps, Dorothy Hanson, and Helen Anderson met with the volunteers who will be taking on the responsibility of cataloging the many artifacts and documents that are donated to the museum each year. Another meeting has been scheduled for January 6 at the museum.

 

There are many other changes taking place at the museum, as well. A new wall has been added in the main room that will begin the process of the new railroad exhibit that will become a permanent part of the museum.

 

We have many wonderful railroad artifacts that have been donated to the museum by the Jerry Ruble family; these will be incorporated into the new display.

 

We now have a beautiful red caboose, which will be re-Iettered in the spring, some much needed repairs have been made to the Coffin Bank, and we are working on a new brochure for the museum. We are entering the new Millennium with many new and exciting changes at the museum.

 

We will keep you posted on the progress.

 

 


 

Mail Problems

 

Some members who live in neighboring cities have told us that they did not receive the notice of the December 4 annual general meeting until after it had taken place. We were upset --especially since the notices were mailed more than two weeks before the meeting date -- and hope that no one who would have attended otherwise missed the excellent program because of this mail delay.

 

As you probably know, the Society saves a substantial amount of money by using a not-for-profit permit for mailing the Historian and other communications to members. The unfortunate "flip side" is that local post offices are not required to make prompt deliveries of such mailings.

 

We are very fortunate in getting consistently prompt deliveries in Batavia, but that is not true in some other communities.

 

For the future, we have decided to send meeting notices and similar time-sensitive material by first class mail to members in the neighboring cities most likely to be affected. This will include Aurora, Elburn, Geneva, North Aurora, St. Charles, West Chicago and possibly others.

 

This change will not apply to the Historian except for those members who have elected to pay the two-dollar annual surcharge for such service.

 


 

I Remember Alma

by Helen Bartlet Anderson

 

vol_41_3.jpg Just ninety-seven years ago, a large ship left from Gothenburg, Sweden. Its passengers included a young Swed­ish girl named Alma and a middle aged medical doctor from Manches­ter, New Hampshire. Alma Emilia, the daughter of Josefina and Carl John Pierson, was born on a small farm in Sweden on September 23, 1886.

 

As the oldest child, she was required, from an early age, to help care for her siblings as they came along. There was Gustav, Karin, Marta, Arthur and Ivar, as well as Gotthardt, who was taken as a fos­ter child at a very young age.


Sheep were raised on the farm. Evenings for the womenfolk were spent spinning yarn and knitting sweaters, socks, mittens and scarves for the large family. Mormor (grand­mother) spun the wool into yarn after Mortar (grandfather) had washed and dyed it. They also had pigs and a cow or two, which Alma had to milk when she was old enough.

 

It was a custom in small farm areas to have a community oven where women brought their large, round loaves of limpa (rye bread) to be baked. Each family had its special day and time to bake.

 

While waiting for the loaves to brown, neighbors chatted and heard the latest news. It was at these newsy meetings that Alma, as her sixteenth birthday drew near, heard such conversations as "Ja, now Oscar has the bug, too. All they think of is America, America, America. Lots of jobs, people live in fine houses, have fancy carriages and lots of money."

 

It became an obsession with Alma. She could send so much money home to Sweden to her struggling family.

And so it came about that Alma's family somehow raised the money for passage, and she was allowed to cross the ocean with Dr. Friborg, who agreed to be her sponsor.

 

Alma lived with the Friborgs in Manchester for a year or more, caring for their three children and doing the cooking and laundry. Each night she read her Swedish Bible and tried to understand recipes written in English. Then she would cry until sleep would finally take over.

 

While taking walks with the children, she noticed a small church a short distance from the Friborg home. She got permission to attend services on Wednesday evening at the little Bap­tist church. Although she could not understand the words, she knew they were worshiping the same God she did. It gave a sense of peace to her frustrating existence.


Then she received a letter from her uncle that she now could come to Batavia. Alma's uncle was C. J. ("John") Ekman, brother to Alma's mother. A fine carpenter and builder, he will be re­membered for building the present Wilson Street bridge and the old high school that was recently torn down.

 

Eventually Alma saved enough money from the few dollars the Friborgs gave her and was able to go by train to Chi­cago and then to Batavia. She had heard that the John Ekmans lived in a fine house, and she so looked forward to living with them ­-but it was not to be.

 

When Uncle picked her up at the train station, he told her that he had found a family, the James Prindles, who wanted her to live with them and take care of their children.

 

The Prindle family lived in the fine old mansion at Wilson Street and Batavia Avenue, now Gammon Cor­ners, the home and business of the Joe Marconis. Alma soon discovered that life in Batavia was not that different from life in New Hampshire with one exception -- every Sunday she went to church at Bethany Lutheran, taking the young Prindles with her. Going to Swedish services at the church and meeting young people who understood and could speak Swedish made all the dif­ference in her life. She no longer yearned for her happy, busy life in Sweden as she mangled linens and cared for the little Prindle boys, whom she loved very much.

 

There were parties and picnics of church folks to which she was invited. Alma was a fun-loving person -- ready for a party at the "drop of a hat." She especially liked a couple of the John B. Anderson boys, and they liked her. Her friends often wondered, "Who will Alma be with tonight? Will it be Victor or Arnold Anderson, Vic Swanson (lots of fun and good story teller), or Frank Olson, who could sing and dance better than the rest?" Frank was also an immigrant. Most of her dates led to fun get-togethers, with singing of Swedish songs and dancing, no doubt with Frank as the organizer.

She started dating Victor regularly, and in 1909 they were married. The following year they were blessed with a beautiful baby girl, Ebba; but when she was three years old, she devel­oped meningitis and died. The follow­ing year, 1913, Alma gave birth to a lively baby boy, Clifford Victor, who was to be their only surviving child and is now my husband of 62 years.

 

English was not too much of a prob­lem for Alma. She was never heard to say, "I'm sorry, I don't know what those words mean." She would sit, slightly nod her head, and weakly smile. It didn't matter. Later, she went to classes, called "Swede School," at the church, where Swedish immigrants were taught to speak very good En­glish.

 

She taught me many things such as ironing Swedish linen table cloths and cooking delicious Swedish foods - ­even lute fisk. If only I could bake loaves like her delicious Swedish rye bread. As we worked together, she told me about her childhood in Swe­den, about Christmas holidays and about the storm at sea when most immigrants got sick. Alma escaped that but was so afraid the ship would go down that she almost wished she hadn't!"

Alma and Victor's contributions to Batavia include Alma, homemaker extraordinaire -- a model of perfection; Victor, fireman, postal worker, mer­chant and baseball player; son Clifford, merchant, township supervi­sor, county board member and member of the board of tax review; grand­son Jim, alderman, member of the park district board, township supervi­sor and sexton at Bethany Lutheran Church; grandson Dick, retired after twenty years in the United States Air Force; and grandson Dennis, thirty years with the Batavia Police Depart­ment, presently as chief of police.

 

 

 


 

It's 2000 -- and Dues Are Due!

 

Many of those who attended the annual general meeting on December 4 paid their dues for the year 2000 at  that time. There are more than 200 members, however, who have not yet  paid -- and, if you are one of these,  we urge you to send in your payment, using the form on the back of this issue,  at your earliest convenience. 

 

If you prefer to retain your Historian  intact, you can either make a copy of the form for mailing in with your payment - or provide the necessary information in any manner you wish.

 


 

Fires in Batavia!

A Heritage Roundtable - January 11, 2000

With Batavia's Fire Expert -- Mayor Jeffery Schielke

 

No one today saw the 1893 fire that destroyed the East Side School. And few have a first-hand memory of the spectacular 1913 blaze that demolished the old Knights of Pythias Hall. Many, however, will recall other fires, such as the one in 1969 when Fire Chief Bud Richter was called away, minutes after receiving the Citizen of the Year Award, to command his men fighting a serious fire which had broken out in Walt's Supermarket.

 

Our mayor, Jeff Schielke, is a well-known expert on fires and fire-fighting, both in Batavia and in places far beyond our borders. We are fortunate indeed to have him participating in our next Heritage Roundtable, which will be held January 11, 2000, at 2 p.m. in the City Council Meeting Room at the Municipal Center -- a new location. Be sure to come -- and bring your friends. Light refreshments will be served.

 


 

Who Are These People?

 

vol_41_4.jpg

 

It was a beautiful day, September 26, when the Heritage Committee of Access and the Batavia Historical Society had their annual cemetery walk -this time at the East Batavia Cemetery. One of the grave sites highlighted was that of the Kemp-Meredith families. As you may recall from our last issue, in 1855 Milo Kemp founded the business that eventually became the Swanson True Value Hardware, and he was joined two years later by his son-inlaw, Thomas Meredith.

 

The two persons pictured here by the monument identified themselves as descendants of the family; unfortunately, however, in the rush of selling tickets and organizing the tours, no one working on the cemetery walk got their names. If you can, please help us so that we can complete the record and give them color copies of this fine photograph taken by Alma Karas.

 

 


 

Living in Three Centuries
An Interview with Edward R. Albert

 

Edward Reuben Albert was born November 5, 1895, on a farm near Freeport, Illinois. When he was ten, the family moved to Freeport, where he attended grade school and high school."About 1914," he recalled, "my fa­ther bought a Paige automobile. The dealer sold about ten Paiges in Freeport at that time, and the buyers decided it would be cheaper to go to Detroit, pick up the cars, and drive them back rather than paying the freight charges. So the dealer led the caravan of cars and took them through Chicago and down Michigan Avenue, turning on Jackson Boulevard. My dad was driving the last car, and he wanted to stay with the others so, when the light changed to red, he went through it. A couple of blocks later a police­man on a motorcycle stopped the caravan, and Dad was fined for going---"':hrough the red light -- which the dealer took care of." .After high school, Albert moved to Chicago, where he attended the YMCA college and the Armour Insti­tute, now the Illinois Institute of Tech­nology.

 

His higher education, which was in structural engineering, required a number of years of night school, both before and after World War I, and included International Correspon­dence School courses and some pri­vate tutoring.He was inducted into the U.S. Army at Freeport, Illinois, in 1917. From Freeport, he was sent first to Rock­ford, then to Jefferson Barracks, Mis­souri, and then to Ft. Riley, Kansas. The country was ill prepared for sol­diers, and they had nothing but cot­ton clothes and one blanket. They were "housed" in row after row of tents, eight men to a tent, with a field kitchen. "Even in late summer," Albert recalled, "Kansas gets real cold from midnight until seven in the morning. About four o'clock in the morning, it got so cold we couldn't stand it - we had to run up and down the row to get warm."In September, they were sent to Camp Travis, Texas, near San Anto­nio. "I was slated to go into the engi­neers," Albert continued, "and then the flu epidemic broke out.' They needed someone in the medical de­partment to organize matters.

 

No one there was educated in organization. I wasn't, either, but at least engineers had an inkling of how to organize. So they grabbed me out of the engineers and put me in the hospital corps, with the job of organizing the expansion."Around San Antonio, which was a replacement camp for Europe, there were 300,000 to 500,000 servicemen. When the flu broke out, there were all these people, and maybe one in ten got the flu. So you can imagine what an expansion we had for the hospital.

 

We had to take two-story barracks and make them into hospi­tals."The nursing in the hospital corps at Camp Travis was supposed to be done by the civilian nurses in the area, but there were obviously not enough. My orders were to find men to man these hospitals. We had to find men in the infantry and the artillery and give them medical training so they could assist the nurses. It was an awful job to convince men to come and work in the hospitals, but they had army orders and, if they didn't com­ply, they were in trouble.

 

Although a lot of nurses did get the flu, I didn't nor did the doctors and the nurses with whom I worked directly."After two years in the service, he returned to civilian life in 1919 and got married. During the next ten years, he worked as a draftsman for the Burlington Railroad and later as a structural engineer for Graham Ander­son Probst and White, architects. Ev­eryone wanted to work for Graham Anderson, since it had a 35-hour work week for engineers, with all the over­time one wanted at time and a quar­ter.By the end of the decade, Albert recalls, "I had a nice savings account and checking account.

 

In 1929 the stock market crashed; however, there was enough work in the office to carry us until 1931. Then we were laid off. That didn't bother me too much since I had about $8,000 in the bank -- a lot of money for those days. But then I got nephritic abscesses, which took a lot of money, and a couple of months later the bank where I had my money closed. You couldn't buy an engineer­ing job in Chicago at that time.

 

Well, I got a little work around this area, sew­age treatment plant corrections, wa­ter treating plants, and wells. We pro­vided supervision for the Elburn well. That's how I got through the 1930s. "Came the 1940s and World War II. By then, I was in charge of power im­provement for Commonwealth Edison. We had a foundation for three big power boilers, solid from the rock up, all prepared. We were ready for the superstructure, with 5,000 tons of steel on hand in the warehouse. I came down one morning to the office, and here was a telegram from the War Department: they grabbed on to all that steel. There we were in the of­fice, and we couldn't find steel, so we sat and twiddled our thumbs.

 

"Then a call came from Bethlehem Steel," Albert continued, "asking if we had any structural engineers. The War Department sent some men out to interview us, and the outcome was that they selected me and the group I had at the powerhouse for a 'hush hush' job. Japan had established a blockade and stopped our importation of raw rubber. The War Department selected us to work on a project to make a chemical that would be a toughening agent for a new rubber synthetic. I was the structural engi­neer.

 

The War Department bought up an eighty-acre field in Memphis, Ten­nessee, on which to build the plant. We had one year to develop this, and we did it in eleven months. After the war, we organized a com­pany, with ten partners. I was the chief engineer. We built plants and were able to beat our competition because we knew how to build them. Over time we built the firm up to 440 persons. I was the engineering manager from 1949 to 1959.

 

We did a lot of the plant work for Kellogg, Quaker Oats, Gen­eral Mills, and all of those food people. I resigned in 1959. "I did a little supervising work after I left the company but then retired. My wife died in 1974. We had built a house in Glen Ellyn in 1927 and I lived there until 1989 when I moved to the Holmstad, where my daughter already lived -- and still does.

 

Editors Note: Edward Albert told us that he was pretty well until the last year, when he suf­fered losses of sight and hearing.

 

It is obvious, however, that he has lost none of his mental capacity, and we hope that he will survive well into the 21 st century.

 

 


 

An American Pioneer, Christopher Payne

Marilyn Robinson

 

This story was previously published No­vember 30, 1999, in the Kane County Chronicle. Used by permission. Marilyn Robinson's history columns appear every Tuesday in the Chronicle.
The full details of the tribulations of pioneer Christopher Payne are related in a new book written by Dr. Robert Barnes of Batavia. The 54-page book, An American Pioneer, Christopher Payne, 1786-1871, [was] released at the Batavia Historical Society meet­ing on December 5.
Payne had many encounters with hostile Indians, mem­bers of his family were murdered at the hands of Indians, and he was en­gaged in many disputes over land claims in Wisconsin. Christopher Payne was the first white settler in Kane County. In October 1832, he moved his wife and six children to Head of Big Woods, now Batavia. This was only one of many moves his family made as Payne sought the good life.
Born in 1786 in a log cabin in Penn­sylvania, Christopher's life was filled with conflict and tragedy. When he was 13, his family moved to eastern Ohio. At age 20, he set out by himself and found employment with a party of en­gineers who were surveying public lands in Indiana. Here he married Elizabeth Dawson, age 14. The sur­veyors were driven away by Indians who resisted the white man's intru­sion. Christopher joined the Indiana vol­unteers and fought in the War of 1812. After the war, he took Elizabeth to Vincennes.
 
Here their son, Uriah, and daughter, Lucinda, were born. Next they went to Madison County, Illinois, where son George was born. Ever on the go, the family moved to Galena, back to Sangamon County, then to Hennepin, and eventually to Naper Settlement in DuPage County where Christopher helped build the settlement. From there, Payne ex­plored the expansive woods along the Fox River. Here he selected a cabin site, but was discouraged from build­ing by the threat of the Black Hawk War.
The United States Army and a group of volunteers were assembled to stop Black Hawk. Payne and his son, Uriah, joined the volunteers. When this war ended, Christopher was free to build a cabin at Big Woods in 1833.
 
In the fall of 1835, he sold his Batavia claim to Judge Isaac Wilson and moved to Squaw Prairie (Belved­ere), where he claimed several thou­sand acres and built another cabin. From there, he explored southern Wis­consin, taking two men with him. They found the outlet of Geneva Lake a good site for a mill. They staked a claim by marking some trees and us-ing brush piles to mark the borders.
They returned to Squaw Valley; and a month later, they went back to Wis­consin. They built a log house for Christopher within the present town of Lake Geneva. When they finished,the men returned once again to Squaw Valley. A month later, they made a third trip to the Wisconsin site, intending to build a dam and saw mill. They dis­covered fresh claim marks. Feeling that their cabin proved they had a le­gal claim, they began building the dam. Others disagreed.
 
Payne was taken to court for claim jumping. He testified that he had seen no sign of an earlier claim on the property. This was but the first of several fights he had physically and in the courts over Wisconsin rand claims. Age 60 and broke, the Paynes were forced to move in with Uriah and family in the Lake Geneva area. In 1852, tragedy struck the family.
Daughter Abagel and her husband became ill. Only Abagel survived. She moved to Lake Geneva with her three children and eventually married Elqah Utter, a blacksmith with six children of his own. Abagel gave birth and shortly after announced that the fam­ily would join a wagon train on the first of May 1860 for the long journey on the Oregon Trail to Oregon Territory.
 
That summer there were a number of Indian attacks upon wagon trains. The army patrolled the trail, but by late fall they decided no more wagons would be expected and returned to camp. Utter's wagon train was still on the most dangerous part of the trail. They met a band of Indians along the Snake River in southern Idaho. At first the Indians were friendly, and the set­tlers shared their supplies with them. The Indians left but soon attacked. The wagon train was trapped for the next two days. Water and ammunition sup­plies dwindled, and the Indians showed no sign of leaving. After th reelays, the settlers made a dash for the Snake River. Utter, Abagel, and daughter Mary were killed.
 
Some people, including four of Christopher's grandchildren, were able to escape but after walking many days across the desert, stopped, an exhausted cluster of wretched, starv­ing persons. One grandson volun­teered to go with a group of appar­ently friendly Indians. The young hero attempted to bargain for more food. He was killed.
 
Some survivors were able to push onward, taking two of the Utter boys with them. The entire group was massacred. Others starved to death.
 
Two survi­vors made it to the army fort and re­ported the attack. A remaining few travelers, naked, incoherent, and near death, were finally discovered by troops sent to search for them.
 
From Payne's family, only his 13 year-old granddaughter, Emeline, survived the ordeal.
Barnes' book sells for $5, with the proceeds going to the Batavia Historical Society, which published it. It is available at the Batavia Park District office at 327 West Wilson Street.
 
 
 
 
 Our Christmas Party - A good time was had by all
 
 Our Christmas Meeting - Potluck dinner was held on Sunday, December 5, at Bethany Lutheran Church.
The ladies outdid themselves with the food, the business meeting was brief, and the entertainment was outstanding. About 230 members were in attendance.
 
The Society's officers and directors fill staggered terms; this year there were six positions up for election. Dick Benson, Georgene Kauth, and Bill Wood were reelected as vice president, corresponding secretary, and historian, respectively. Carole Dunn was reelected as a director, and Bob Brown and Bill Hall (a former director) were elected to fill vacancies. Tim Mair, who has served as a director for several years, chose to step down because of time and schedule pressures.
Dr. Robert Barnes described the background of his newly issued book, An American Pioneer, Christopher Payne, which was published by the Society. A number of copies were sold at the meeting, and additional ones are now available at the Batavia Park district office, 327 west Wilson. Marilyn Robinson's review that appeared in the Kane County Chronicle is included in this issue.
Dona and Dan Benkert of Warrenville entertained the members with a dulcimer concert. They are founding members of the Warrenville Folk Music society and owners of Folk-Lore Center Music School in Warrenville.