THE BATAVIA HISTORIAN

Volume Forty-Four

No. 1

 

January 2003

 


 

Batavia's Sears Houses - And We Really Have Them!

 

In the last issue, we included, with permission, "The Sears Homes," an article that had appeared in HistoricIllinois, a publication of Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. We asked readers to tell us about any Batavia houses that they knew or believed had been purchased from Sears catalogs durdng the years these houses were offered, 1908 to 1940.

 

A number of readers responded, and we are including pictures taken by Bill Wood and Bill Hall and, where available, information about some of these houses. Whenever possible, we have identified the house model by name from the book Houses by Mail: A Guide toHouses from Sears, Roebuck and Company, published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

 

The model identification is not always easy, or sometimes even possible, since buyers frequently requested additions or other modifications when placing orders. Also, owners have often made later modifications, the most common of which is to close in a porch to make an additional room. Another factor that makes precise identification difficult is that Sears sometimes gave different names to the same basic model in different catalogs. vol_44_1.jpg

 

When we have been able to identify a model, we show the name, the catalog price range, and the years that the model was offered.

 

The low prices will probably shock younger readers who have come to assume that the cost of even the most modest house is at least six figures, but they must realize that these prices were pre World War II and often in the Great Depression era.

 

Also, the figures quoted were for materials as shipped and did not include the cost of the lot, foundation, possibly a basement, erection, and sometimes the plumbing or wiring that would be bought separately.

 

In Houses By Mail, one owner who built a Sears home in 1933 wrote: "You may be interested to know what the house cost us -- the materials were $2,300, the contractor was $1,500, and two extra contractors for a breakfast nook and back porch came to $900."

 

With that brief background about Sears houses in general, let's start looking at our Batavia Sears homes. The first will be the house at 233 South Batavia Avenue, immediately south of the Moss Funeral Home -- the grandest house that Sears sold. Thomas A. Mair wrote about this house in his 1990 book, Batavia Revisited, available for purchase at the Depot Museum.

 

Here's what he said: "Sometime between 1920 and 1924, [Ira E.] Seymour became president of the Household Journal and moved into the big house at 99 (now 233) South Batavia Avenue. On the roof of this house rests a figure of a cat and such a figure was a familiar sight from 1926 until the early 1960s when a storm blew it off. "That big house, with the cat on the roof, for many years has been the object of a story that I believe to be apocryphal and unverified. vol_44_2.jpg

 

That story says that the house was advertised as a prize, or premium, for a contest conducted by the Household Journal, without any intent that it actually be given as such prize because I have never seen or heard any authentic evidence that such was the case, and from what I know of my own knowledge of [Rodney] Brandon, Seymour and [Ernest] Oswalt,it is just not possible.

 

"While we are on that subject, it probably is not generally known, but that big, attractive residence was a Sears catalog house in the 19205.

 

In those days Sears sold by catalog, models of pre-cut houses, and the cat house was the top of the line when Seymour bought it.

 

It was known as the "Magnolia," of all things, and cost $5,140." Houses by Mail shows a model named "Magnolia," priced $5,140 to $5,972, that was offered in the 1918 and 1921 catalogs. The model pictured is similar to the house at 233 South Batavia House, although somewhat more elaborate with a columned portico in front -- maybe that would have been included at the higher end of the price range!   

 

Muriel Benson has given the Depot Museum a picture of the house at 416 Delia Street. Originally a three-bedroom house, it now has four bedrooms, and a family room has beenadded. We have identified it from Houses by Mail as the "Gladstone, a model offered from 1925 to 1938 for a price ranging from $1 ,409 to $2,153. This is substantially less than the $11 ,000 amount that Muriel Benson said that it cost on October 29,1929, at the start of the Depression.

 

The difference can be attributable, at least In part, to such amenities as a three-car garage, outdoor fire place, and screened-in house forentertaining -- to say nothing of what is described as a "huge lot" and the costs of excavation and construction.Another "Gladstone" model Is located nearby at 505 Church Street.

 

vol_44_3.jpgThe common bloodlines" are easy to see. Corliss Weaver has told us about two Sears homes on Elizabeth Street-- 429 built by her father, Ture Andrews, a Batavia alderman, and 439 built by her uncle, Willard Schimelpfenlg.

 

We have been unable to identify the model at 429, bul the one at 439 appears to be the 8erwyn." This model was available in 1932 and 1933 for $1 ,252. Beverly Waterfield related an interesting story about the Sears house at 1033 Walnut Street that her father, Albert Ecklund, built in 1929-1930. "At that time," she wrote, "money was scarce. My father did all the construction himself except for the excavation for the basement.

 

"One story that he related to me years later was how he stopped by on his lunch hour to check on the digging progress and found the men in the hole looking at an enormous boulder. His heart sank. 'Howareyou going to get that stone out and how much extra is it going to cost?'

 

The men looked up at him and smiled as they said, 'Albert, we're not going to take it out and it won't cost you anything exterior. We'll just dig a big hole and roll it in sometimes think of the boulder down deep under the house and how it saw sunlight for such a short time. About 1943 my father removed the front porch and added a living room down and two bedrooms up. It doesn't look much like the original now."

 

She continued her reminiscence,"When my father was here for a visit about ten years ago, he pointed out another Sears house - I couldn't lind the number on that one, but it is between 515 and 525 South Harrison. It was really the Sears house that he wanted to build, but it cost about $200 more and that was out of the question to even think about."

 

Because the house at 1033 Walnut bears little resemblance to the original and we are unable to identify the model, we are not including a picture here.

 

We are , however, showing the house between 515 and 525 South Harrison that Albert Ecklund wanted to build. This house has style characteristics that are found in a number of Sears houses. Finally, we are including a picture of three houses built side by side at 226, 230 and 234 South Prairie. Although we have not been able to identify the model of the house at 226, we have been told that the three are all Sears houses. The one at 230 is probably the "Ramsay," available from 1925 to 1928, at a price of $654 to $685.

 

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The Somers model is on the corner at 234 South Prairie; this model was available from 1926 to 1929 at a cost of $1 ,696 to $1,778.

There are undoubtedly still others, maybe many, in Batavia, and we would appreciate help in identifying them.

 

There needs to be persuasive evidence, however, before we can include a house in our files of Sears homes. Sears sold high quality homes but did not try to be innovative; they based their models on styles that were popular at the time.

 

 

Also, other builders sometimes imitated styles made popular by the Sears homes. If there appears to be sufficient interest, we may later prepare a booklet that would serve as a guide such as Downers Grove has for people who

wish to make a driving tour of Batavia's Sears houses. To make this as compete as possible, we would appreciate

learning more about the houses we have identified, including the original owner, the date built and the model, if known.

 


 

Batavian Meets Lincoln

 

Marilyn Robinson wrote us: Here's a little piece I found buried in a file I was cleaning. I think it's interesting. There's no date on it. It is from a newspaper. Somehow little pieces like this make the history we studied in school so much more real. Because I used to pass Lincoln's home in Springfield when I lived just a few blocks from it, I can picture Mr. Lincoln answering the door. It had not yet been made into a national park service stop when I lived there.

 

 

During the summer of 1860, I went with my father and brother (sic), Mr. and Mrs. A. E. Bishop of Chicago to Springfield, III. The only conveyance our friends could get to take us around the city was a lumber wagon. In this we drove to Mr. Lincoln's home. He came to the door and greeted us. A gentleman of the party said to him, "We are a delegation from Chicago." To this he replied, "Well, I hope you did not have to come all the way in a lumber wagon." Later I saw him on horseback wearing a linen duster with the tails flying out behind. The next time, he was in his casket lying in state in the court house in Chicago. I went down in the afternoon and again at midnight to hear the chimes which were played in the Presbyterian church on the opposite corner. Mrs. J. P. Prindle

 

Ed. note: Mrs. Prindle was a sister of Mrs. E. H. Gammon, who was featured in the July 2002 issue.

 


HELP WANTED NO - EXPERIENCE REQUIRED

 

The Depot Museum, particularly the Gustafson Research Center, is badly in need of volunteers during the hours that it is open -- and the Gustafson Center remains open during the winter.

 

Carla Hill and Chris Winter have emphasized that volunteers need have no prior experience. Those of you who have volunteered have found that it is a lot of fun. You meet some very interesting visitors. As volunteers gain experience, they find that conducting research to help these visitors and callers can be fascinating. Even those of you who are long-time Batavians will learn a great deal about your city.

 

Please don't let this opportunity slip by. We need you. Just call Carla or Chris at 406-9274.

 


Gladys Noren - Nine Decades in Batavia

 

 

This story comes from an interview of Gladys Noren conducted by Elliott Lundberg and Bill Hall on July 24, 2002.

 

I was born September 26, 1908, in Chicago, Illinois. Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States at that time. My father's name was Hans Eigner Hansen, and my mother's name was Mary Catherine Sedmiradski. I had one brother, who was four when I was born. He died in 1998 at the age of 94. My mother was 95 when she passed away, and my Gladys Noren father was 60." That is the way in which Gladys Noren began recounting her life.

 

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My father was born in Copenhagen, Denmark," she continued. His father was a forester for the King of Denmark and a great hunter. When my father was dying, he told my mother that he was supposedly born out of wedlock and was adopted byhis biologica l mother's sister and brought up in Copenhagen.

 

"After his mother's death in 1901 or 1902 whenhe was about 20, my father came to this country, settling first in Chicago. That is where he met my mother, who was born in Wisconsin of Polish or Hungarian ancestry.

 

Later they moved to Batavia because there was more hunting out here than in Chicago. "My father had learned to be a mechanic in Denmark, and he had a garage on LaSalle Street in Aurora. No one could ever fix a car to please him -- they never did it right. But he had to quit that business when a viaduct was built where the garage was in the early '20s.

 

"Because he couldn't get any work then as a mechanic, he started selling automobiles. Later he sold farm machinery for the Minneapolis Moline Implement Company.

 

He was a block man at that time, traveling in southern Illinois towns. He also had to attend all of the fairs in the summer time -- how he hated that! I sometimes rode with him when he went on trips. He'd stop at a little town for lunch in a small restaurant, and I thought it was great.

 

We asked Gladys where she grew up and went to school. "We lived in Eola for a time," she recalled, "and I believe my father had a horse and wagon at that time. I went to the little Eola country school Then we lived onRoute 25 north of Batavia on the Vermilyer place. I went to the Louise White School in Batavia and to Batavia High School for my freshman year. Then they decided that we weren't in School District 101 , so I went to the Geneva High School.

 

My dad took me up to the school in Geneva, and I was scared to death, I didn't know how it was going to be. That's when I met Edyth Anderson. "I started going to the Baptist Church when I was nine years old. Mrs. Vermilyer took me to Sunday School, and there I still am. Erma Jeffery was a good Baptist, quite involved, and worked a 101 with the children. She always got in with the minister somehow, although she didn't always get along with Reverend Johnstone, the preacher for a long time. "The year I graduated from Geneva High School -- 1927 -- was the year that Lindy crossed the ocean.  

 

You should have heard the preacher who gave the address on baccalaureate night. He really bragged up the Swedes. It was amazing because a lot of the people in that class were not Swedish and they felt hurt.

 

"After I graduated from high school," Gladys continued, "I went to work for the Household Journal, just like everybody just out of high school. Then I got a job at the Howell Company in St. Charles, and from there I went to work in Chicago. I rode the Toonerville Trolley, which left from Batavia. In Eola we transferred to a car going to Chicago.

 

I'd look at the house we used to live in, right across the way. Al Shandor bought that place. He used to collect garbage in Batavia and fed it to his pigs. "When I started working in Chicago before the Depression, I was making $25 a week. It cost $12 a month to take the train into Chicago in the early '30s, at one time it had been $8.

 

Later it went up to $16. We used to wear nylon stockings; they cost a dollar a pair, which was a lot of money. I belonged to a bridge club then, and the girls would all entertain and try to outdoo one another. I bought a lot of glassware at Marshall Field's -- it could be valuable now. Later, when I worked for the Batavia National Bank, Mrs. Windsor, wife of the president, had a luncheon for us, and she had the same kind of goblets that I had.

 

"I worked in Chicago at a bond house. The man I worked for was the Secretary of the Sons of the American Revolution. I did more work for the Sons of the American Revolution than I did for the company. I had worked there about two years when the 1929 when the market crash happened. The girls who was the bookeeper went to the floor every morning and came back sighing, 'They're jumping out of the windows,' and I guess they were.

 

The man I worked for and his brother had to close the office. I couldn't stand that man. He'd party at night and invited most of the girls in the office to party with him. I was glad to get out of there." "Then I went to work for a ladies accessories company" Gladys continued. "The owner, Mr. Levy, was Jewish, and I enjoyed working for him, although he was very changeable. About twelve salesmen worked out of that office. When you typed a letter then, you had twelve carbon copies - an error meant that there were twelve mistakes to be corrected. Often when the letter was done, he changed his mind, and I would have to do it again with twelve carbon copies. But I liked him.

 

"Then, however, it got so I had to work nights. It was right around the corner from Wells Street, and I had to walk that street at night. My dad told me I wasn't going to do that as it was too dangerous a street to walk on at night. So I had to tell Mr. Levy that I wasn't going to work there any more. After I was home for about a year, he called and asked me to come back to work for him. I told him that I had a job; although I liked him, I didn't like the hours.

 

"It was about 1935 or 1936," Gladys continued, "and Phyllis Davey had left the Batavia National Bank, so I applied for a job there. I was not married yet -- I'm just a late bloomer, I guess. My dad died in 1941, leaving my mother a widow. I married Emil Noren that same year. "Emil was about 20 years old when he came to America from Sweden. He had worked with his father, who was an electrician and built the towers to carry electricity in Sweden.

 

After his mother's death, he came first to New York and then moved out here after meeting an electrician from Geneva. He worked for Nord Averill's electric shop for a long time. "I think we dated for about five years before getting married. I wasn't anxious to get married, and I don't think he was either. I guess he felt he wouldn't be a good husband.

 

Asked how she balanced raising a family and working at the bank, Gladys said, "Carol was born in 1943, and Sylvia was born on Christmas Day in 1945. I'll never forget. O.T. Benson drove us to Community Hospital in Geneva. Dr. Shirer was the doctor. I had a little time off when each of the children was born. My mother lived with us so she was my built-in baby sitter.

 

"During the Depression," Gladys recounted, "the bank examiners told Mr. Windsor that he should let W. B. Beem and Julian Augustine go. They had sold a number of bonds for projects being developed to customers who thought the bank backed them. When the Depression came, the projects failed, and bond holders lost their value. When Mr. Windsor asked who would run the bank, the examiners told him that Walter Johnson could do it. He was very young at that time, and often stated that it was a load to bear. "When I started at the bank, Paul Kuhn was upstairs in Emil Benson's office. He was running for Governor of Illinois at that time.

 

Ruth Freedlund, Erma Jeffery, Mary Anderson, Manley Peterson and Walter Johnson worked there. Julian Augustine used to come in, I can remember that. He wasn't working there then, but he had to come in and look around. W. B. Beem worked there for a little while after I started. When W. L. Anderson died, Mary quit the bank and took over the store on the northeast corner of Batavia and Wilson avenues.

 

Once in a while we used to walk up to Geneva with the girls from the First National Bank and have lunch there. "Arnold Johnson started at the bank, probably after Manley Peterson left. Arnold workedthere until he went into the service during World War II; then he came back for a while after the war. Eleanor Meyer Issei and Doris Hicks Perna started working at the bank after the war. "When I started, we got paid twice a month, and I think I was making $7 a week. Mary Anderson and Lucille Wenberg, who worked at the First National Bank, used to compare salaries, and the First always paid a little more. "When Carol was born," Gladys recalled, "I was home for just a few weeks before I went back to work.

 

Emil was working, but he didn't make much money, and inflation was becoming more and more apparent. After Sylvia was born, Walter Johnson came right to the house and asked me if I could come back to the bank for a few weeks. I did, and that turned out to be several years." When asked about some of the bank customers she remembered, Gladys said, "I remember a farmer from out west of town whose boots really smelled when he came into the bank on a damp day.They were those old felt things with a rubber shoe on them over his stocking feet. 

 

I think it was his wife who used to come with a can of money to be counted. It was full of silver coins and had a kind of moldy smell. I think they had it buried in the ground somewhere. Some of the customers came in at tax time with stacks of money that really smelled. They had it buried -- they didn't trust banks then. "Hartsburg and Hawksley were customers of the bank. They ran the 'Best Mill by a Dam Site,' located at the North Aurora dam.

 

They did real good millwork and did a lot of work when the bank was remodeled. Frances Hartsburg was from the Hartsburgs who owned the company. When the bank went on computers, she received her bank statement addressed to Mrs. Hartsburg. She came in the bank and went in the backroom to talk to Marilyn Anderson, who listened to her tale and cajoled her. When Frances Hartsburg left, she said,'Thank you, Mrs. Anderson,' to which Marilyn replied, 'That's Miss Anderson.'''

 

Gladys remembered the Feldotts who used to come in the bank. There were Chris and Ed Feldott and their three sisters. They had a patent from the U. S. Government for the land where their ancestors had been the first settlers. It was one of the farms acquired by Fermilab." Responding to a question about the home on South Batavia Avenue, Gladys recalled, "In 1944, Emil and I and my mother bought the house here in Batavia. You had to have 25 percent down, and we didn't have any money. I think we borrowed $1,000 or $2,000 from my mother for the down payment. The house cost $7,200. We got a mortgage from the Batavia National Bank - if I was one day late with the payment, Walter Johnson let me know about it.

 

"The property fronts on South Batavia Avenue and runs all the way down to the bike path along the river. When a sale of the neighboring bed and breakfast was proposed, a man from Naperville wanted to buy my property for part of a condomium project. He was going to give me $250,000 -- you should see the book he sent me. Carol asked me if I was going to sell it, and I said sure. But the deal fell through."

 

So Gladys still lives in the house that has been her home for over sixty years. We trust that she will be there for a number of years to come.

 


Batavia, Illinois - Past and Present - 2000

 

Some of us have been fortunate enough to own copies of Batavia, Illinois Past and Present, written by Eunice K. Shumway and John A. Gustafson and published by the society in 1965. It has long been out of print, however, and accordingly unavailable to most of our members. Marilyn Robinson undertook to update the book to the year 2000, and itcame off the press in time for sale to those in attendance at the annual meeting on December 1, 2002. 

 

Illustrated with pictures from the files at the Gustafson Research Center and ones taken by Marilyn in 2000, this is abook that anyone interested in Batavia history will want to have.Copies are available for $10. Although the Depot Museum is closed for the winter, anyone wanting to make a purchase can call Carla Hill or Chris Winter at the museum office - (630) 406 5274.

 


 

Our Membership - How It Grows!

And Other Membership Matters

 

 

Our treasurer reports that we now have 539 members, a far cry from a few years back when there was a struggle to maintain a large enough mailing to qualify for the nonprofit rate!

 

Since the last issue, the following persons have become life members of the society (all from Batavia unless otherwise noted):

 

Coleen Feece,

Jerry and Joan Rumps,

and Cora West (gift from John and Judy Gosselin).

 

Other new members include:

 

Pearl Barber (gift from daughter Mary Williams),

Jeff and Tammi Benson (Bartlett, IL - gift from Dick and Lois Benson),

Greg and Karen Benson (Wayne, IL - gift from Dick and Lois Benson),

Shirley Bertoti (Carmichael, CA - gift from brother Chuck Beckman),

Brian and Kathy Byrne,

Fr. Dan Deutsch (gift from Walt and Georgene Kauth),

Mr. and Mrs. Timothy Dwyer (gift from Mr. and Mrs. Robert Wheatley),

Diane Ekstam (Ft. Collins, CO),

John Elwood,

Robert and Ruthanne Flory,

Merle Gleeson and Frank Bodart (Wilmette, IL - gift from Bridgette Gleeson and Michael Goldman),

Gary E. Garrison (Clinton, IA),

Fr. Brian Grady (gift from Walt and Georgene Kauth),

Mr. and Mrs. Euene Graham (Aurora),

Betty G. Hansford,

Sara Harms (gift from mother, Betty Stephano),

Matt and Cora Heidgen (gift from Charles and Mary Ellen Heidgen),

Mrs. Beatrice Hodson (Sun City, AZ - gift from Marilyn Robinson),

Kathleen and Brian McGrath,

Richard Riseling (Callicoon Center, NY),

Dorothy C. Staples,

Darlene Troutt (Gladstone, MI - gift from Margaret Urich),

and Gerald and Joyce Shields,

 

We welcome these new members and look forward to their participation in the activities of the Society.

 

We regret to report the death of life member Mrs. Robert T. Glidden and extend our sympathy to her family and friends.

 

We received gifts from the Rick and Sandy Eckblade family and Carole Clark and family in memory of Grace and Bun Eckblade, from Kathryn F. Klose in honor of Barbara and Bill Hall, from Walt and Georgene Kauth in honor of Lyle and Terry Bergmann's 50th wedding anniversayar, from Richard Riseling, and from David and Sharon Young in memory of Dorsie Young.

 

We wish to thank these donors for their support.

 


 

TOUR OF WRIGHT HOUSE HIGHLIGHTS ANNUAL MEETING

 

Jerry and Joan Rumps graciously opened their beautifully restored and maintained Frank Lloyd Wright house to members to begin the society's annual meeting on December 1, 2002.

 

The Rumps have owned the property, known as the Mrs. A. W. Gridley House, since 1992. Mrs. Gridley commissioned Wright to build the house in 1906. In 1912, Frank Snow, president of the Challenge Company, bought the house for his wife. Although acreage at the rear was sold off to developers over the years, the Snow family continued to live in the house until 1981, when it was sold to a Texas investor, Sara Grace. When the Rumps bought the house from her, they became the fourth owners in the long life of the house.

 

Following the tour of the house, members convened at Bethany Lutheran Church for the traditional potluck dinner -- delicious, as usual. In the brief business meeting following the dinner, the members elected Dick Benson to a two-year term as president and Patti Rosenberg to fill out the remaining year of Dick's term as vice president.

 

Other officers and directors elected to two-year terms include:

 

Christine Winter, recordinrg secretary;

Alma Karas, treasurer; 

Bob Peterson and Marilyn Robinson, directors.

 

Officers and directors who will continue in office are:

 

Georgene Kauth, corresponding secretary;

Bill Wood, historian;

and Bob Brown, Carole Dunn and Bill Hall, directors.

 

The officers and directors then joined at the podium to honor Bert Johnson and his wife, Ruth, for the society's many accomplishments during his six years in office.

 

It has been a truly outstanding period in the society's life. Joan Rumps then related Jerry's and her experiences in owning and restoring their home. She is very interested in putting together all the information that she can on the house and its previous owners. She passed out a sheet asking members to tell anything that they knew about the house. She says that the response was good, but Dick Benson suggested that we include the sheet as an insert in this issue for readers who were not present at the meeting.

 

Please complete the sheet if you hav( any information and send it to Joan Rumps, 633 North Batavia Avenue, Batavia, Illinois 60510.

 


 

Saloon Debts of Yesteryear

 

While working on probate

records atvol_44_9.jpg the Gustafson

Research Center, Elliott Lundberg came across a 1901 file for the estate of Paul Hendrickson, who had operated a bar on South Batavia Avenue.

 

Tangible assets totaled only $1,647.50, but attached were a number of pages of

accounts receivable from customers.

 

These accounts were classified in three columns: Good, Doubtful, and Desperate -- what a wonderful title for the third column!

 

We hesitated to include any names in this brief story because they are sure to include those of ancestors or other relatives of present Batavians (indeed, the list also includes such well known names as, for example, one of the McKees), but we couldn't resist.

 

After all, it is a fascinating picture of life at the turn of the last century. Besides, the passage of a century surely takes away the sting one might otherwise feel to learn that his or her ancestor's debt of, say, 80 cents for drink was classified as "Desperate." So, we are showing you one page, pulled out at random, from the list.

 

Incidentally, it is interesting to see that most of the money is in "Doubtful" and

Desperate" columns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


DUES ARE DUE

 

For those of you who did not get a chance to pay your 2003 dues at the recent annual meeting, we are enclosing a selfaddressed envelope you can use for payment. Please note the dues structure on the last page of this issue.