Volume Fifty-Seven

No. 3

Winter 2016




Batavia has many traditions and Christmas reminds us of one of our favorites.

Beginning in the 50’s we had “Christmas Tree Lane”. A Christmas tree hungfromevery street light on Wilson Street and Batavia Avenue. In the 70’s, onetreestood out andstill standsouttoday:Charlie’s tree! Charlie’s tree is covered with red lights and is a tributet o Charlie Chemesa beloved and longtime employee of the city of Batavia.

Charlie was quite a person. He knew so many people and couldn’t remember their names so he called them all “cowboy”. He and his wife Margaret had 6 girls and lived on the east side of Batavia. They were a close-knit family filled with love.


In the 1970’s when the city employees were putting the Christmas trees on the light poles, Charlie asked them to please do one with only red lights to celebrate a Mexican tradition. All of Charlie’s daughters had to search until they found their dad’s tree. The next year the city put the tree with red lights in a different location and the girls had to search for it again. Each successive year the city moved the location of the tree and before long a new tradition was born. Where was their dad’s tree? The tradition continued even after he retired and Uncle Charlie & Aunt Margaret would give a dollar to the first grandchild, great niece or nephew that called them with the location of the red tree.It is rumored that anyone in the above group who called Charlie or Margaret was “first” and collected a dollar!


But it was not only Charlie’s daughters and other family members who looked for his tree. Soon many people were looking and asking“Where is Charlie’s tree this year?” In 2016 the people in Batavia are still following the tradition. They search forhistree (including Charlie’s daughters and their children), have contests to see who can be the first to find the “red tree”, and see who can be the first to post a picture of the tree on Facebook.
Traditions like “Charlie’s Tree” make Batavia very special!!!!



 Christmas Eve - 1886 - Mary Conde Wilson
(Shared by Mayor Jeff Schielke, December 12, 2016 at “Books Between Bites”)



 Our little community of Batavia shared a blessing sent forth from the heavens above on this date, Christmas Eve 1886.




Winter days often leave our town coated with ashes and soot as flaming stokers and fireplaces burn wood and coal to keep our lives warm. This necessary action of daily comfort leaves a dark surface over grounds and roofs as far as the eye can see and the beauty of Nature’s snow is erased as we near the sacred moments of Christmas. Today, however, the work of a hand from heaven gave us a memorable blessing for all to behold. The early part of the day started cold and cloudy and with much promptness a gentle snow began to cover our entire town by late afternoon. Thus, a white coating from the heavens above took away the darkness and musk of the cold winter season and gave all a look at the beauty and wonder of much to give thanks for.




As daylight time gave way to night, skies cleared of all clouds and a moon-lit heaven offered a rare chance to see the place we call home in a bright and warming glow.

The start of evening church services on both sides of the frozen Fox River were highlighted by a sense of near perfection of moon light and whiteness everywhere. Seemingly most citizens took to the streets to attend their church’s sacred ceremonies of Christmas. Church bells from the west side of the river drifted freely on the westward winds to be shared by all within earshot. A walk through downtown allowed viewing into Kinne and Jeffery’s Store, Ole Thomle’s shop, and Tim Roache’s Meat Market where late customers of the day gathered goods for the coming day’s celebrations and exchanged greetings of Merry Christmas in the glow of kerosene lanterns. The hike up the East Wilson Street hill provided a special moment of meaning to consider the sentiments that God wants us all to live by. Standing in the doorway of his barbershop, James Stewart, once a captive slave in the old south, shouted out greetings of Merry Christmas to each passing soul with a hearty voice of friendship. This allowed all to realize that under the heavens we share, each and every one of us is an equal member of God’s eternal family.

Yes, Christmas Eve 1886 was a time of grace, wonder and beauty that captured the special spirit of just what this day is all about.



Batavia’s Winter Traditions....
How many do you remember?

Older traditions....(over 50 years)
Bud Richter and the firemen repairing

   bicycles and toys for children who Santa might miss
Christmas Tree Lane Charlie’s Tree

Skating on the river Christmas Tree on Clark Island

Tobogganing and sledding down Fabyan’s hill
Roger Beels and his wife playing Santa and Mrs. Claus


Newer traditions...
Wreaths and garlands on the light poles Skating on the pond
Peace on Earth sign on the Peace Bridge
Live ballet dancers in the windows at Batavia Academy of Dance




 A 1992 Christmas Memory Letter written to his family
by Larry Wicklund, BHS Class of 1958


Dear Dad, Sandra, Nancy, Tom and Patricia,

For all of us, memories of Christmases past are rekindling and I am joyful that some of mine were shared with all of you. Some of our loved ones are gone now but we are grateful for the memories they left with us. I will miss them all this Christmas.

I fondly remember many of our traditional Christmas celebrations with Mom and Dad, Aunt Edie and Uncle Herb and Pat, the four of us kids and other relatives and friends.

On Main Street, we most often had Christmas Eve next door, at Uncle Herb and Aunt Edie’s. I can see the grand piano, decorated fireplace and their Christmas tree. Mom and Edie were doing all the cooking and baking, Pat’s special wrapping of the many gifts for all of us and the playing of Christmas records on an old record player. One year, Ibo made either a very large snowman or a snow horse, which he sat atop of in their front yard.

Sylvia and Jenny Craft’s house, across the street, always look like a mansion to me at Christmas time. I can remember them taking us in the house to show us their huge tree. Some of us surely remember their German Shepherd dog called “Sable”.

In 1948 or 1949, we moved to grandma Wicklund’s house on Morton Street. One of my fondest memories is grandma making “pepper-root” in the kitchen, with tears running down her old cheeks. It was usually served on Christmas Eve, at Aunt Edie’s house and none of us kids could eat it. The kitchen smelled for days afterwards.



Christmas time in Batavia, meant to me, sledding at the Blaine Street School and Walnut Street playground and then down Walnut Street hill and across Jefferson Street. Scary to think about it now but back then, there weren’t very many cars.
Ice-skating down on the river pond and at the quarry. Aunt Joyce took us skating at the Quarry one year. A warm fire, in a 55 gallon drum, for all the kids to thaw their toes and fingers. Cross-country skiing from Morton Street to Millcreek, by myself, on Ibo’s or Glenn’s old wooden skis.

Christmas programs at the Bethany Lutheran Church, (I hated them), but the church was always decorated beautifully. The Bethany choir singing Christmas hymns was always the highlight for me. I can remember carolers coming to our house on Morton Street, to sing carols for grandma as she sat in her rocker and listened. Years later, I went caroling with kids from the Lutheran League to our old neighborhood on Main Street.

Snowball fights and snow forts, building snowmen and playing “Fox and Geese”, after a fresh snowfall, are pleasant memories but the shoveling of sidewalks and driveways were not. (I think that is why I moved to Portland Oregon). Pheasant hunting with Dad and our many dogs, trapping muskrats and skinning them in our basement during the winter, what a great Christmas memory that is. All those dead rats!!!!

Over the years that followed, our Christmas dinners expanded as, Pat invited a guy named Larry, Sandy invited a guy named John, Nancy invited a guy named Jim and Tom invited a girl named Cynthia.

I loved the Bulldog Holiday Basketball Tournament, shopping in quaintly decorated Geneva. Seeing “Mooseheart” lit up atop the football stadium on a snowy winter night. Dad and Uncle Herb help build that stadium. In fact, one of us should write a history of Mooseheart, as most of our family work there, at one time or another. Ivar, Skimp, Dad, Edie, and Herb. Aunt Edie was probably the longest and the last member of our family who worked there.

I remember going to Chicago on the third-rail, with Mom, to see Santa Claus and the windows of Marshall Fields and Company. I recall the clickety-clack of the train, more than Santa or Marshall Fields’ window displays. Do you remember how on a cold and clear winter day, you could hear the clickety-clack of the third-rail, coming up the east side of the river into Batavia Station. What a scary and mysterious thing, that third-rail. A taboo, to those of us West Siders. I can remember all of us waking up early in the morning, to see if Santa had been there. Tom believed in Santa until he was almost in high school. Now he admits, he did it intentionally to receive more gifts.

I have been listening to the song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” on the stereo and it has been fun thinking of all of you at this Christmas time. I’m sure you all have many fond memories and I want to thank you for being part of mine. Whether you are in Oregon, Illinois or Florida, here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas and a peaceful 1993.



The Tree on Clark Island
by Diane Engstrom, BHS Class of 1956



When December approached every year, as far back as I can remember in my childhood, I would find myself looking forward to that magical evening when a beautiful perfectly shaped Christmas tree would suddenly appear in all its splendor at the northernmost tip of Clark Island. And it would shine brightly every night thereafter throughout the Christmas season: a dazzling view to be seen by anyone gazing south from the Wilson Street bridge, a true Batavia Christmas tradition.



Other traditions come readily to mind. One of the most memorable (that I know I share with some of the former Louise White classmates and teachers) ...the singing of carols around the Christmas tree. Every holiday season two large decorated tree were set up in the west corridors of the school near the stairs - one on the first floor outside the kindergarten room and one just above it on the second floor near the fourth-grade classrooms. On the last day of school before Christmas break, it was traditional for all the students to gather around the tree on their respective floors and sing Christmas carols. They would take turns: the lower classes on the first floor would sing a song, and then the upper floor would sing one. It was a tradition that I always looked forward to every holiday season.

Sunday school Christmas activities are very much a part of my memories as well. Every year in the little church where I grew up there would be a traditional Christmas program or pageant put on by the children of the congregation - from some of the youngest up to
the teenagers, each had his or her part. This pageant would usually be presented on the last Sunday before Christmas during the regular church service hours. At that time an army of small shepherds in robes and wisemen bearing “gifts” would march solemnly up the center aisle of the church accompanied by little angels with tinsel halos and of course, Mary, Joseph and the Baby. They would congregate at the altar and moms’ and dads’ ears would strain to hear as timid little voices would recite their pieces. Sometimes the Sunday school teacher’s gently coaching voice could be heard above that of the children. And sometimes a little shepherd or angel would suddenly spot his parents in the audience and wave. Ultimately, “Away in a Manger” would be sung by the smallest of children, and one of the older ones would read from the gospels that very old story that becomes new again every Christmas. The program would usually conclude with everyone joining in the singing of “Silent Night.

Now almost from the beginning I knew the truth about the tree on Clark Island: it wasn’t real. My mother explained to me as a child that what appeared to be a lovely, full tree was just numerous strings of Christmas lights suspended from a tall metal pole in the shape of a tree. But in my heart, I never really wanted to believe this. For I knew that the tree was as real as the Spirit of Christmas itself, appearing every year to brighten our horizon for a little while, and to leave in its aftermath the enduring memory of its lovely glow.



GROWiNG UUP IN BATAViA: A MEMORY 1940 - 1945: The War Years
by Diane Engstrom, BHS Class of 1956



I grew up in the little house where my father, the son of Swedish immigrants, had been raised. The Great Depression was just coming to an end. My childhood holds cherished memories of being surrounded by uncles, aunts, and cousins all living nearby - from both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family.

When I was 5 years old I began my formal education at the much beloved old Louise White school, as had my father before me. The names and faces of so many wonderful teachers come to mind when I recall Louise White years: Mary Nolan, Helen Peterson, Jessica Anderson, Alice Thompson, William Wood, to name a few. And of course, our principal, Alice Gustafson, who was later to become a personal friend and mentor of mine. Although I went on to complete 12 years of schooling, some of the teachers I had the privilege of studying under at Louise White made the most indelible impression on me. There is no question in my mind about the high quality of Batavia education throughout the years.

My very first years at Louise White were during the war years of World War II. What memory does a 5 or 6-year-old child have of such a time? Perhaps more than you might imagine. My parents spoke often and in hushed tones about “The War”. Two uncles and a cousin of mine were either drafted or “joined up”. My mother wrote faithfully to each. I remember her calling my aunt to share news every time she received a letter in return. I recall once when we did not hear from my cousin for some time and everyone worried about what battlefront he might be on. I remember being fascinated by a large sticker with a star shape on it that my aunt had displayed in her front room window. My mother told me that this meant she had a son serving overseas in the war. I later noticed that some people in Batavia had stickers with 2 or 3 stars in their windows.

I also remember the little “tokens” that looked like play money to a child, which people could use to buy gasoline, sugar


and meat, which were “rationed” because they were scarce due to the war.

I remember war bonds. Kids in my first-grade class brought pennies and nickels to school (knotted up in their handkerchiefs by their mother so that they wouldn’t lose them!). These coins would go toward the purchase of government war bonds to help the war effort.

And then I recall one night my mother told me that we had to turn off all the lights in the house and pull down the window shades because Batavia was having a practice air raid alert complete with sirens. I just remember being scared and glad when we could turn the lights on again.

Finally, I remember a day when Batavia’s fire whistle began blowing and blowing and it seemed it would never stop. I was playing outside in the yard and when I ran inside my dad told me the war was over. The president had ordered that a bomb be dropped on Japan. It was all a little too much for a 7-year-old mind to comprehend. But I did realize that everyone was very happy, and shortly afterwards my cousin and uncles came home.


Memories of Fairy Land
Told by Alfred Morfee to his sister Alice Morfee Pitts


Long, long ago in the days of old, there once was an area at the end of South Van Buren Street called “Fairy Land”. The following was told to me by my brother Alfred “Al” Morfee who lives in Delray Beach, Florida and who, at the age of 91, has a remarkable memory.

When our family lived on South Van Buren Street and Al was about 10 to 12 years old, all the boys from that part of town would go down to Fairy Land to play. He told me there were fields and a big hill (maybe a couple of hills) where they would play and pass their free time away. He can’t remember all their names, but he remembers that John Lally, Don Harker, a kid named “Bucky”, and his good friend Dave Cain all would meet him there and play for hours.

They were young boys and never thought of danger, so they would bring their BB guns to play cowboys and Indians and no one ever lost their eye! The north side gang would come down there at times and try to “take over their land” but the South Van Buren boys always prevailed. That was their place to play and no one was going to take away “their property”.
According to Al, there was a company call Standard Dairy not far away from where they played. The dairy usually left their doors open and the boys would go into the building and “borrow” some of the paper caps that went on the top of glass milk bottles. They would take these caps back to where they were playing and use them to start a fire. I didn’t ask Al where they got the matches, but most dads smoked in those days. They would then roast some corn (also “borrowed” from a near-by field) and have themselves a feast.



Al said ”Alice, don’t put in there that we stole those milk caps and corn, I’ll get in trouble!” I laughed and told him, “No Al, I don’t think you’ll get in trouble - no more Fairy Land, no more Standard Dairy, and sadly most of your buddies are gone one left to rat on you so we will forgive you!”

He also told me that they would pitch tents and sleep out overnight. Evidently parents just didn’t worry much in those days because things and places were pretty safe. When you think of this in today’s terms...BB guns, starting fires, roasting corn, and staying out all night..’s scary. Yet, they all survived and had lots of fun.

When they were having fun with their BB guns in those happy carefree days, little did they know their lives would change in about 5 or 6 years when they would be exchanging those BB guns for the real thing as WWII broke out and they all went into the service. My brother Al was drafted into the Army in 1943 after graduating from BHS. While in the service, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge and received the Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge, Presidential Citation Badge, and the French Legion of Honor Badge. About now Al would be saying “OK, Alice, enough about me, back to the story of Fairy Land.” continue. He told me there were also some limestone quarries that were being mined but were later filled. I suppose they were like the quarry we have today, where kids and adults love to spend hot, summer days like we did when we were kids.

I asked Al, “how did Fairy Land get its name and he told me it was called that long before he started to play there. So, does anyone know how “Fairy Land” got its name?

These are the memories told to Alice Morfee Pitts by her brother Al Morfee.



  News from the Museum



Welcome to our new Museum Manager, Jennifer Putzier, who will join the staff on January 17. Jennifer comes to the Depot Museum with an extensive background in museum studies, archives, research and programming having worked as Curator at the Aurora Historical Society since 2002. She will fill the position that Carla Hill has served in for the past 40 years. Best wishes to Carla as she begins a new chapter in her life - titled “Retirement”.

If you grew up in Batavia, please share some of your memories that made Batavia special to you. The article can be short or long or somewhere in-between. If you have pictures of Batavia or residents of Batavia, we will scan them and return them to you.

You can send your article to the museum or drop them off in person to the depot. You can also email them to “” or give them to either Glenn or me. We look forwardto receiving and saving your memories. Thanking you in advance. Doris Sherer/Glenn Miner


  From the President


We want to thank the following for donations received since the last newsletter:


In memory of Mary Harris: The Rickard Family, James Burke & Laurinda Cooker,
Barry & Jane Catezone, Connie & Dana Lemme, W. Vanarragon & R. Linder,
Robert & Lucy Anderson, Robert & Susan Peterson, Priscilla Swanson, Sally Trekell, Mueller Financial Services, Bob & Betty Riley, Steve & Anita Nelson, Nancy Bowron, Rosalie Jones-Link, Molly Herman

In honor of Carla Hill’s retirement: Rodney Ross

In memory of Bob Popeck: Tom & Rica Peterson, Bill Harris, Bob & Rhonda Nelson, Tony & Chris Winter, Charlie & Cyndy Webb, Linda Rock & Jeff White, Richard & Lois Benson, Charles & Deanne Popeck






Now is the time of year to pay your membership dues if you did not attend the December Pot Luck Dinner and renew your membership. Please use the membership form on the back of this newsletter and mail it the Batavia Historical Society with your payment. You don’t want to miss out on any newsletters or meeting notices! Thank you.