Volume Fifty-Seven

No. 1

Spring 2016



by Society member Sue Nelson Peterson, BHS Class of 1963





“Ready on top; hold it on first and second”. Those were the last words I yelled as I closed my eyes and, after many failed attempts, (meaning I chickened out, and climbed back down the ladder) I took a running leap off the tower. I remember slapping my leg hard as I hit the water, but feeling thrilled that I had finally “gone off top”. I was 9 or 10 at the time, and had only just “passed my test” at the Quarry a few weeks before. At that time, in order to swim in the deep end, you had to swim the length of the pool, behind the Lifeguards” row boat, or, most often, alongside Sam Rotolo, the Quarry’s manager, who would encourage you all the way, and reach out his hand to pull you in if you couldn’t make it. If you didn’t pass, you were ushered to shore. Talk about a “walk of shame”, and with your friends watching! But after you passed, you could swim in the deep, and got a patch to sew on your suit indicating your achievement, which also allowed you to spread your towel on the north end of the beach.

This took place in the mid 1950’s and thus began my first summer of independence. From then on, all summer long, my friends Janie Schacht, Karyl Swanson, Diane Wicklund, Bonnie Olmstead, Ginny Nelson, Patti Nelson, Pattie Sue Carlson, and at times, cousin, Paula Nelson and my older sister, Gloria, would daily ride our bikes “down” to the Quarry. Sometimes we’d ride the curvy, hilly entrance drive down, but more often we left our bikes, unlocked, at the top of the stairs. (We “Westsiders” felt luckier than our “Eastside” friends, whose only access to the Quarry was across the dreaded trestle behind the bowling alley). But the westside stairs were also a challenge, especially climbing back up them (all 74 of them, per Norm), at the end of the day.


Once there, we’d show our season’s pass to the check room girls, who’d then give us a wire basket for our clothes. After changing into our suits in the dark, damp and curtain less locker room, we’d return the basket to the checkroom after removing the large safety pin with its number on it for retrieval afterward. We would then proceed to the beach end, barefoot (before flip flops) across the pebbles (not sand), and spread out our towels. (Sunscreen, what sunscreen?) There we would lay, with occasional dips to cool off, all afternoon. Once in a while we’d swim to one of the two rafts or to the boards. We were afraid to go to the rafts if the “big boys” were out there running from side to side trying to tip it over. Then, as now, there would be music blaring from the loudspeakers, with music from The Everley Brothers, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Darren, etc. Occasionally, it would be interrupted by an announcement from the check room that it was time for a rest period, or that someone’s mother had called them and wanted them to come home.

Around 4:30 we’d pack up our stuff, change our clothes, or not, and start for home; but not before we stopped at the snack stand,


run by the Albright family, and bought a popsicle, fudgesicle, pushup, or frozen candy bar for the “long” trek back up the stairs.
Sometimes, on particularly hot days, we’d go back with our parents for an evening “cool off’ swim. If not, I’d go “up” to the Athletic Field with my sister and our friends Donnie and Dickie Johnson. There we met other neighborhood kids, and would play at the playground until dark.

One week every summer, the American Legion sponsored carnival came to town and set up in the park behind the old library on Wilson Street. That was really exciting! We’d watch them set up during the day and then walk back in the evening and ride the rides, e.g. the Ferris Wheel and Octopus, but never the Rock-o-plane—too scary! There’d also be games to play like Bingo and Hooligan; but the best was the one in which you’d try to win a goldfish by throwing a ping pong ball into the bowl! How proud we’d be walking home with a fish sloshing around in the bowl! Funny—my mom wasn’t so proud!

I must note, this was an account of pre- teen memories. The routines at the Quarry, playgrounds, and carnivals stayed somewhat the same for many years, but life changed dramatically when boys, cars, organized sports, and summer jobs came into the picture. Perhaps some of you have many of the same childhood memories of those idyllic lazy, hazy summer days in Batavia. Why not share them in future issues!


Batavia Women
by Marilyn Robinson and Carla Hill

Women’s role in history often wasn’t recorded. Much of what we do have was taken from women’s diaries. Sometimes we can’t even learn the first name of an early woman because she was always referred to as Miss or Mrs. Still women were an integral part of life along the Fox.
Women have been along the Fox as long as men but at the time of settlement, women were only adjuncts to their husbands or fathers. They couldn’t testify in court, sue or sign contracts and did not have the right to their children if legally separated.

Indian Women
The first women along the Fox were wives of the Indian Tribes who inhabited the area. The only real decisions they were allowed to make was where each person in the family would sleep and where to store belongings. She collected wood, prepared food and made clothing. When it was time for the tribes to move, the squaw took down the wigwam, loaded it on a horse and carried the family’s meager belongings on her back, to the next camp.

Elizabeth Payne
The first permanent settler in Kane County was Christopher Payne. He brought his wife Elizabeth and their children to a site at the Head of the Big Woods, just west of today’s Kirk Road at Wilson Street. He built a cabin 14x16 feet, which is smaller than many of today’s master bedrooms. Elizabeth entertained, fed and even boarded new settlers until they could get their cabins razed. A legend says that she slept 16 people in the cabin one night.

Harriet Warren Dodson

For the early settlers, it was a struggle just to get here. Harriet Warren Dodson wrote an account of her family’s trip to this area in 1833. On October 7,1833 they left New York by covered wagon to travel to an area that would eventually become Warrenville, which was named for her family. Their journey took three weeks and three days. They traveled twenty miles a day. She eventually married Christian Dodson and settled in Batavia along Mill Creek.
A Kane County history book written in 1904 profiled only one woman, Ophelia Amigh, who was the superintendent of the Girl’s School in Geneva.

Women couldn’t vote until 1922, but that didn’t stop them from fighting for causes they believed in. In 1876 the Ladies Temperance League of Batavia, with Mrs. Rachel Newton as its president, was holding a spring campaign and kicked it off with a public meeting at the Congregational Church. Rachel was the wife of Levi Newton of Batavia’s Newton Wagon Company.

Before the Civil War, females didn’t have the privilege of attending public high schools. There was even greater opposition to them in higher education. It was argued that too much study would fatigue women because they have smaller brains and that it would ruin their reproductive organs. Lack of male teachers resulted in many women going into teaching during the Civil War. After the war, the change continued at least in part because women could be paid lower salaries.
The photo at left, shows Miss Grace McWayne, she is third from right, and the other younger looking and probably not married, teachers who taught with her in the early 1900’s.
Grace McWayne
In September 1868, Grace McWayne from St. Charles came to teach in the new West Side School in Batavia. She found her first week so frightening that she went home and told her father that she was never going back. Her father talked her into trying again and she ended up teaching for fifty-nine years in the building that was eventually named for her. After teaching for 50 years the 6,000 citizens of Batavia presented her with $2,000, which was the equivalent of two years pay.
Louise White
Louise Conde White was a native of Batavia. She spent forty-three years as an educator in the East Side Schools of Batavia. She began her teaching career at the old Wagner School on Giese Road in 1894, right after graduating from Batavia’s East Side High School.

Alice Gustafson
Alice Gustafson taught in Batavia for thirty-four years. Like Louise White she had attended Batavia Schools. She also attended Northern State Teachers College. She retired in 1956. The next year, the school bearing her name opened on the southwest side of Batavia.
Over the years Batavia has been home to many other notable and accomplished women.

Doctor Annie Spencer
It was difficult for females to break into the medical field but by the turn of the century there were some women doctors. Doctor Annie Spencer who was an assistant physician at Bellevue Place and also had a large practice of her own outside of the hospital. She specialized in diseases of women and children.

Ellen Skirmont, was bom in Batavia and graduated in 1934. She was trained as a medical technician. As such, she was part of a team who worked for the University of Chicago’s Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb.

Sharon Myers moved to Batavia as a young child and attended Batavia schools. Her father was a familiar face in downtown Batavia working as a barber in Willis Larsen’s shop. Sharon was a talented vocalist and went on to become a world recognized, professional singer/songwriter, under the name of Jackie De Shannon.

Another young female, Sharron Moran, grew up in the Prank Lloyd Wright home on Batavia Avenue. She became a pro-golfer, voted Ms. Golf of 1966 and in 1971 wrote the book, “Golf is a Woman’s Game”.

Batavia’s Citizen of the Year
In 1958, the Batavia Chamber of Commerce awarded their first Citizen of the Year Award. This award recognizes one person in the community who gave service and support beyond the normal call of duty to the Batavia community. The first recipient was Gladys Larson, founder of the Valley School for Exceptional Children. Gladys had devoted her life to helping the handicapped and elderly citizens throughout the area.

Out of the 58 years that this honor has been awarded, 23 have been received by a woman. It is incredible to think about the impact these women and to the many others who were not singled out, have had in our community and how their efforts will continue to benefit generations to come.

Every woman who lives or has lived along the Pox River has her own story, her own dreams and her own impact on the lives of others. Some women are noteworthy but many others continue to provide quiet support and comfort without much notice or fanfare.
Bellevue Place 1945-65
By Chris Winter

Much has been written about Bellevue Place and its most famous resident, Mary Todd Lincoln, in 1875. Little has been recorded in Batavia history on the subject of Bellevue Place since that time. I recently had an opportunity to talk with three Batavia residents who worked at the sanitarium as a part time job during their high school years in 1946-55. The following story contains the recollections of Jean (Carlson) Bradley, Gail (Peterson) Wilke and Pat (Peterson) Myler. I also included some Ross family background through correspondence with Rodney Ross. Dr. Edward Ross, Rodney’s father, operated Bellevue Place from 1946-1964.

Rodney Ross describes the grounds when his family arrivedinBataviain 1946: TheBellevue property, which took up sixteen acres in the southwest section of Batavia, (bounded by Elm, Jefferson, Walnut and Harrison Streets) had been quite a conglomerate. Besides
the sanitarium proper, there had been a barn, a chicken house, a greenhouse in which flowers were raised for the Chicago market, a gazebo known as “the summer house”, a three- car garage with an additional storage area, and a tool room/workshop, plus an extensive vegetable garden with raspberry and currant bushes. Edward made no attempt to revive the fanning or flowerraising aspects of the place, but he did reestablish the sanitarium as a respected medical facility.
Initially, the Ross family lived on the second floor of Bellevue Place. At the time, only a half-dozen patients were at the institution, all living on the sanitarium’s ground floor. Later, as more patients were admitted, the family moved to the third floor. In 1950 they moved again, this time to the apartment building behind the sanitarium which had formerly been the hospital’s bam.

Control of Bellevue was a responsibility that Edward and his wife, Anne, divided between themselves. Edward served as medical director and general manager; Anne acted as resident manager admitting patients, ordering supplies, planning menus, etc. At peak operation it took close to three dozen people to run the place, including part- time nurses’ aides, cleaning women and ground keepers.

Many of the part-time nurses’ aides were students from the Batavia High School. The girls were able to walk to Bellevue after school to work a shift from 4:00-7:00 p.m. Their duties included some general cleaning in the rooms, bathe and dress patients, and bring meals to them which were delivered to each floor by a dumbwaiter from the kitchen that was located in the basement of the hospital. They were paid 50 cents an hour for their work.

Jean Bradley remembers having some meals at work during the summer months when she worked a split shift; 7:00 am-1 pm and 4-6 pm. The patients received fresh squeezed orange juice daily and a chicken dinner on Sunday.

Pat Myler recollects that the more pacific patients were on the ground floor, while the more troubled were on the second floor. The kitchen and laundry area were in the basement. There was a piano on the second floor that was available to anyone who wanted to play. Pat worked on the first floor and Gail was assigned to duties on the second floor.

When asked about other classmates and employees at Bellevue, the three ladies recalled quite a few names. Mr. Stenman took care of mowing the lawn and outside maintenance and Mr. Swanson worked in the greenhouse. Other nurses’ aides were Jean Beckman, Janice Larson, Nancy Stenman, Joyce LaVoy and Jackie Benson. Pat Myler’s sisters, Shirley and Helen Peterson, worked as nurses’ aides and her mother, Ida Peterson, worked as a cleaning lady. Nurses on staff were Mrs. Swanson, Mrs. Rockwell, Mrs. Draper, Mrs. Coleman and Mrs. Cleland.
Elsie Cleland was a remarkable woman who basically became a nurse on- the-job, and when Bellevue ceased operations, had become the head nurse. She ended up taking a few of the patients into her home to care for them, having built an addition on to her home for this purpose. Ida Peterson worked with Elsie Cleland during this time.

Gail Wilke enjoyed this high school job so much that she went on to complete nurses training courses through Copley Hospital. Upon graduation she was hired at Copley as an operating room nurse and continued to work there for the next 41 years.

Many thanks to Jean, Gail and Pat for taking the time to share these stories with the Depot Museum. We would love to hear from anyone else who worked at Bellevue Place and would like to add to this history.
What was your first job in high school? We’re sure that our membership would love to read about the places you worked and the people that you met along the way. Please take the time to write your stories down and contact the staff at the museum or send them to our newsletter editor at batavianhistorian@


News from the Museum
by Chris Winter
Spring is finally here and the museum will re-open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays for our 2016 season. We will host our 10th Annual Batavia Quilt and Textile Show on July 15-17. This year’s theme will be commemorative quilts, depicting special life events: birth, marriage, graduation, college, anniversary, retirement, etc. This year a professional Quilt Appraiser will be available for a fee.

The museum is always looking for new volunteers. Anyone who would be interested in volunteering at the museum or the research center, can call Lois Benson, 630-879-1080 or Chris Winters or Carla Hill at the museum, 630-406-5274.

The city of Batavia, will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Flag Day, starting on June 14, 2016, and continue throughout the year.
Much of the credit for the celebration of our nation’s symbol falls to a former Batavia resident, Dr. Bernard J. Cigrand.
From the President
Bob Peterson
We want to take this time to remember Bill Hall, who passed away on February 21, 2016. Bill was a life member of the Historical Society and served as our treasurer and was on the long-range planning committee. Bill also served as our Editor for the Batavia Historian from 1997 until 2008. During those years, the Historian reflected his deep interest and dedication to Batavia and its history.

The Park District and our long-range planning committee has finally solved all the legal issues and our proposed, 3 year Expansion Project, has begun. Watch for further developments.
If you haven’t paid your yearly dues, please do so as soon as possible.

The Research Center has discovered the reference book on Marilyn Robinson’s newspaper articles has disappeared. Perhaps someone inadvertently picked it up and took it home. This is a major research tool about daily life in Batavia and it can be returned to the museum with no questions asked.