Volume Thirty

No. 1



Set the date aside and plan on attending our Spring meeting. Our vice-presidents again have planned a great program.


Date:               Sunday, April 2, 1989

Time:               3:00 p.m.

Place:              Civic Center, 327 W. Wilson St., Batavia


The program consists of two parts, with a short business meeting between them.  


First: The Misty River Music Makers, a group of local area women, will entertain us with a selection of songs.


Second:  Don Schielke will show us the movies made by Augie Mier of the 1938, 1939 and 1940 Memorial Day parades.


This should bring back many memories when you catch glimpses of well-known Batavians such as Emil Benson, LaVerne "Babe" Woodard, Jeanette Smith, Jake Feldman, Dr. H.C. Storm, J. Paul Kuhn, Arnold Benson, and Hattie and Stanley Johnson -- plus youngsters like Mollie (Olson) Hubbard and Margie (Johnson) Clark and Don Clark!  


You will also see the last of our G.A.R. veterans, Seymour Wolcott, participating in the ceremonies. Following the films, there will be time to visit with friends over coffee and cookies, and the films will give ample topics for conversation.



Our Vice-President, Marilyn Phelps, can use some help in providing cookies for the meeting. Please give her a call at 879-1924 and offer to bake some cookies for the meeting.




If you have not paid your 1989 dues yet, please do so promptly.  A red dot on your mailing label for this issue indicates the dues have not been received as of March 7th.



Joseph Burton


Emmet McKee was a bachelor and brother of Joel McKee. Both lived in the big white house on the brow of a hill just to the north of us in Batavia. Emmet spent most of his time in a small one room cottage just behind and to the west of the big house. Emmet was a large, heavy man with a soft, gentle voice, who loved to lie in a hammock reading books.


The cottage was filled with knick-knacks, including a foot-pedalled organ which he would often play for our mutual entertainment. I visited him often. Occasionally he would make wonderfully ornate drawings using a sheet of paper and a pencil.


Once the drawing started, the pencil never left the paper. In one intricate series of loops and sweeps he would create a bird in full flight, complete with wing and tail feathers and beak and eyes. Actually you could almost call it calligraphy. When I was a small boy I visited Emmet often.


One day, on the short path to his house from ours, I passed a cottonwood tree and notices a piece of candy tucked into its shaggy bark. I hurried on to tell Emmet about it."How interesting," he said. "You've found a Candy Tree. Better keep an eye on it."


From that day on the Candy Tree seldom failed me. Once in a while on rainy days or when the snow was heavy, I'd find a small piece of candy wrapper tucked under the bark.


"Oh, yes," Emmet would tell me, "those are just buds. The candy will bloom later." It always did! Strangely enough, the candy only grew on the side of the tree nearest the path. And it was always within easy reach. When I was in college, my folks wrote to tell me that Emmet had passed away. They found him dead in his hammock with a book in his hand.


Note: In Carl Johnson's story about his father's store in last July's issue of the newsletter, we had a glimpse of Emmet's brother, Joel.


Thanks to Joseph Burton, a Society member living in Geneva, we now have a cameo picture of Emmet, who is not as well known.




1.   What famous American author is believed to have given a lecture in Batavia on January 26, l869?

2.   What infamous person is believed to have rented the McKee house on N. Batavia Ave. (now the Wm. Hall residence) for a month sometime in 1933 or 1934, only to have stayed there a day or two if at all?



Miriam H. Johnson"A library is not a luxury but one of the necessaries of life," said the noted 19th century preacher, Henry Ward Beecher. Batavians would concur with this opinion from the time of the Batavia Library Association in 1867 composed of young men, members of the Batavia Laconian Literary Society, and young women, members of the Sigouranian Society.  


Many of these young people had been students at the Batavia Institute on Jefferson Street, that historic building first built as a school and now restored for condominiums called "Landmark Manor." Members of the Laconian Society had bi-monthly meetings at which they discussed current events, literary topics, and had rousing debates.  They discussed such subjects as "This Fast Age," "Women," and "The Codfish Aristocracy."  


They debated such topics as "RESOLVED: That A. Johnson, President of the United States, Should be Impeached by Congress," and "RESOLVED: That the fortunes of man are influenced more by his will than by his surroundings."


Society members had their share of "high jinks."  On May 7, 1869, President Pro-Tem Seymour A. Wolcott, whose beautiful home on Union Avenue is now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ami Allen, called the meeting to order and "took his seat after tossing a penny to see who would give him an armchair." Ladies of the Sigouranian Society often held joint meetings with the men. They had suppers and parties.  


One December they had a sleighing party to Aurora and back. Beginning in 1869 Laconian Society members had to give Sigouranian Society members a special salute whenever they met, the salute being to lift the hat. Failure to do so would cost the delinquent "a fine of ten cents to be paid to the treasury of the Laconian Society." Each society owned books which they used for program material. 


In 1867 they decided that these books, such as Tristram Shandy and The Last Days of Pompeii, should become the property of "our library." On June 3, 1867 they organized the BATAVIA LIBRARY ASSOCIATION, "an association for mutual improvement and for the collection of a library."  


They were incorporated under Illinois laws. All society members could borrow books free; and person not a member could "draw books" by paying ten cents for each volume or $1.50 a year. A fine of 25 cents a week was charged for overdue books.  Members forming the library association included Mary L. Wolcott, S. L. Coffin, Salem B. Town, Amelia F. Brown, Howard Mann, Maggie Rockwell, W. A. Wolcott, and E. A. Beach.


The Association had regular monthly meetings with such programs as: "Recitation: Love in a Cottage;" and "Oration: The Avarice of the American People is a Greater Source of Danger to the Nation than Intemperance."  To make money to buy books they had a strawberry festival "when strawberries could be obtained in Chicago for twenty-five cents a quart." They rented a room in the Harvey Building for one dollar per month to house their books. They voted to buy the Good Templar's library and book cases for $45.00 and a table for $8.60.


In April, 1873 they organized the Batavia Free Library Association with Frank H. Buck as the first librarian. The library rooms were on the second floor of the Buck Building, corner of Batavia Ave. and First St., and the 384 volumes were free to any person living in the town of Batavia.


"The Patrol," a prohibition paper published in Geneva by J. N. Wheeler and later by C. W. Bailey, from 1885 to 1901, reported this item on the Batavia Library, dated Dec. 30, 1887: "If we lived in Batavia we would go to school to that glorious college of ideas kept by Mr. F. H. Buck. We refer to the public library. It is a grand institution. Its volumes are good, without any being 'goody-goody.'  


They are bright and interesting without being trashy. Mr. Buck is one of the most obliging and efficient librarians we have ever met." In order to raise money for the purchase of books a "necktie social" was held with profits of $51.85.  An excursion by train was made to Lake Geneva with the Batavia Cornet Band to share profits.  


The Library received $143.85. Books purchased included Middlemarch by George Eliot, The Professor at the Breakfast Table by Oliver W. Holmes, and A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy.  


The annual report of the library for its first year of operation reported the number of books was 650; circulation was 6084; and fines collected were $42.30. By 1880 it was evident the Association needed considerably more money, about $500.00.  


People in the community were encouraged to contribute and the drive was fairly successful. The next year the library spent $100 for new books, paid a coal bill of $3.85, and paid Mr. Buck $192 for his services as librarian. In 1882 the annual Town Meeting elected Trustees for the new tax-supported Township Public Library. There were 1040 volumes by that time. 


Rules and regulations included:


--No one person may be allowed more than one volume at a time and no family more than two volumes at a time.

--Messenger fee of 25¢ must be paid if a messenger comes for a book kept overdue.  

--No person except the librarian shall take a book from the shelves.

--In 1885 the library was moved to the upper floor of the Van Nortwick frame building on the Island.  


In 1889 the collection, now increased to 4346 volumes, was transferred to the newly-completed Van Nortwick brick block.  


In 1902 Mrs. Mary M. Newton gave to the library the use of the old Newton homestead at the head of Wilson St. (later razed to become a thoroughfare.)  


In 1921 the Don Carlos Newton property, next door to the north, was bought for a permanent home. The substantial two-story brick building was remodeled and redecorated. New stacks and furniture of solid oak were installed. A hall was provided on the upper floor with a seating capacity of 150 persons. The plant was secured at a cost of only $8,000.  At this time the library contained 10,500 volumes. In 1960 a Children's Room was added along with remodeling of the building. Total volumes by then were 18,000. A branch library was begun on the east side in the 1920's. It was located in several different buildings: southwest corner of Wilson and Van Buren, 100 block of No. Washington, and two locations downtown on E. Wilson St.


The library became a district library in 1975 and moved into a handsome new building at Lincoln and Wilson streets in 1981.  


The Newton home was sold to a developer for $125,000. The new library was constructed without a tax increase, being funded with money from the sale of the old building and money accumulated in the library's building fund. In 1984 the building was expanded to include a basement and a new wing on the first floor for a children's library. Librarians have found their job to be a steady and satisfying one.


Frank Buck served for 15 years, from 1873 to 1888.  Mrs. Margaret Twining served for 23 years, from 1888 to 1911. She had a distinguished brother-in-1aw Nathan Twining, an admiral in the U.S. Navy. Cassie Stephens served for 28 years, from 1911 to 1939. Miriam Havighurst (becoming Mrs. Carl W. Johnson in 1942) served 34 years, from 1939 to 1973. She had taught music and English in the Batavia schools from 1937 to 1938, resigning to earn a library science degree at the Univ. of Illinois. Jane Gray Horning served two years, from 1973 to 1975.  Sally Bast has been the librarian since 1975.  A total of six head librarians have served over a period of 115 years.


From the days when each library patron was assigned a number and books were checked out by writing the number on the book card---Alice Gustafson having number 150, Louise White number 558, Ralph Peterson, well-known organ and piano teacher and member of the Library Board, the prestigious number 1---up to the present when the library is fully automated, computers are used, library collection includes audio-visual materials of all kinds in addition to books and magazines, children find incentives to reading in the large collection for their own use including games and puzzles, exciting summer reading clubs, children's movies, puppet and magician shows, the Batavia Library has been a vital institution in our community.


Just as the Fox River flows through Batavia every day, so is our Public Library a place where the fountain of wisdom continues to flow steadily and purposefully.


(Primary source material used: Minutes of the Batavia Loconian Society, Oct. 1866 to Feb. 1872; Minutes of the Batavia Library Association, June 3, 1867 to April 12, 1882.)


The photograph below was the former Levi Newton home, given to the library board and used from 1902 to 1921. It was an imposing red brick structure with white trim situated on the west side of Batavia Ave. where Wilson St. is now located. At that time Wilson St. did not go through to Lincoln St.  









Jerry Miller for conducting our annual audit again this year without a charge as he has done for a number of years.  


Helmer Wiberg and Bob Hawse for repairing several items at the Museum: Helmer repaired the old spinning wheel and Bob the two model windmills.


Harold & Bob Peterson of Batavia Foundry for the fine cooperation in making our house plaques each year.


The Batavia Chronicle and the Windmill News for their donations of advertising space for our Christmas book sale promotion.


Tom Mair for assuming responsibility for raising funds and repairing the old high school clock now at the Museum --- and to all those who contributed to help Tom finance the project.  Their names will be displayed adjacent to the clock.  Miriam Johnson for writing the history of our library for the major article in this edition of the newsletter.


Joseph Burton for sharing the "Candy Tree" story and Oliver Wolcott for a copy of his father's and uncle's memoirs of their childhoods in Batavia from the 1870's to 1910.  Excerpts of this booklet will appear in future newsletters.




The Society's book sale efforts during the holidays were very successful.  Many members took advantage of the 20% discount.  


Following the newspaper ads, I had to make four trips to replenish supplies for those establishments selling the books for us.  


Also, the Batavia Savings and Loan now is presenting copies of BATAVIA: 1833-1983 to newcomers to our community through the Welcome Wagon! This spring we will have hard-cover copies of HISTORIC BATAVIA available for sale in response to requests for hard-cover books to be given as presents.


Two Society members may soon publish books on Batavia: Marilyn Robinson is writing a history of Batavia geared toward elementary school age children and Tom Mair and the Windmill News are considering a joint effort using Tom's newspaper articles.  


Both will be welcomed additions!




The Society recently was notified it is named as one of the beneficiaries of the estate of William vanNortwick, great-great grandson of Wm. vanNortwick who came to Batavia in 1835.  


The late Mr. vanNortwick was a life member of the Society. Also, a number of donations have been made as memorials with a particularly large number in memory of Marian Mann. Gifts such as these make it possible for our Society to remain financially sound, maintain its collection of artifacts, and work toward furthering its goal of disseminating information about Batavia's past. When making out your will, consider including a bequest to the Society. When giving a donation as a memorial for a deceased friend, consider giving it to the Society. Both bequests and memorials provide a lasting benefit for Batavia. 



Our vice-presidents, Marilyn and Bob Phelps, can always use ideas for programs and help in providing refreshments. Give them a call at 879-1924.  




Marilyn has compiled a scrapbook of all local obituaries from March, 1984 through December, 1988 which is now available at the Museum for reference. When the Museum opens in the spring, May Lundberg will be needing volunteers to act as hosts and hostesses.  


If you can spare two hours a month, give her a call at 879-3660.




1988 saw us gain 40 new members.  We welcome them and hope they will be active in the Society.  Late in the year six new life memberships were purchased: Lydia Stafney, Don Schielke, Norma & Elliott Lundberg, Dr. David Glidden (gift), and Margaret Ekstrom.  That made a total of 16 new life memberships in 1988. 



1.  Mark Twain.  In the book, The Love Letters of Mark Twain, in a list of his letters to "Livy" during their courtship, indicates one from Batavia as #35 in the series.  Nine days later they became engaged.  It is believed the lecture was arranged by the Batavia Lecture Assn., but we have no record or books of this organization.  It was followed by the Laconian Society mentioned in Miriam Johnson's article on the library.


2.  John Dillinger. Col. Fabyan, who owned the house in the early 1930's, told Dr. Grigg, a later owner, that three men drove up one day and asked if the house was for rent, paid a month's rent, took the keys and said they would be back. A few days later Col. Fabyan visited the house but there was no sign of the renters.  Sometime later he picked up a Chicago newspaper and there was the picture of one of the renters on the front page---John Dillinger, who had just been killed by FBI agents!




The picture of the Library earlier, was the view looking west at Wilson St. and Batavia Ave. at the turn of the century.  


Below is its counterpart looking east from the corner of Wilson St. and Washington Ave.  


Note the different appearance of the Wilson-Grimes-Spencer home on the corner and the early model car on the unpaved street.








The proposed new By-Laws were adopted by unanimous vote at the annual meeting on Dec. 4, 1988. Most changes are of a business nature and will not be noticed by the membership. 


However, from now on all officers will be elected for two year terms instead of one year. The 1989 Board is listed on the last page of this issue. At the Board's January meeting it adopted official policies regarding finances, honorary memberships, and house plaques. 


It also heard the plans for enlarging the Museum display area by using the Depot basement once funds become available. This was presented by Carla Hill, our curator.






Individual:                            $3
Joint/Family:                         $5
Sustaining:                           $10
Life (each):                          $50
Business or Institutional:       $10

Bus/Inst. Life                       $100









Co-Vice Presidents:






Recording Secretary:


Corresponding Sect.:





Office ho1der(s):  


Dot and Jim Hanson


Marilyn and Bob Phelps


Elliott Lundberg


Bill Wood


May Lundberg


Georgene Kauth


Ray Anderson


Bob Cox


Ed LaMorte


Bob Popeck  



Term ends December: