History of the City of Baravia, Illinois
From: The Past and Present Kane County, Illinois
Wm. Le Baron, Jr. & Company
Chicago 1878


The manufacturing village of Batavia is situated on both banks of Fox River, about two miles by rail from Geneva, and seven miles from Aurora.

The first claim taken up within its limits, which is also generally considered the first in the county, was made by Christopher Payne, in October, 1833, on the east side of the river. Much dispute has occurred concerning Payne's nativity, some contending that he was a North Carolinian, and others that he entered the county from nearly every point of the compass; but E. S. Town, Esq., who settled on the West Side, in June, 1834, upon the plaee now occupied by C. W. Porter, and who was well acquainted with Payne, and possesses an excellent memory of early events, states that he had frequently told him that he hailed from the Empire State, but had been a wanderer nearly all his life. Like the celebrated character whose name, with a varied orthography, he bore, he could say that the world was his home. He came from North Carolina to Illinois; and Capt. Dodson states that he entered Kane County and broke land in 1832, but left during the Indian troubles. He was a pioneer by nature, ever hovering on the outer edge of civilization, and seldom remaining long enough in one place to enjoy the fruits of his labors. He had been in Naperville previous to settling in Kane County, but had not remained there long. He claimed that he had first entered the county and broken some land near the head of " Big Woods," but that his family had not come until the following year (1833). According to Mr. Town, he was one of the roughest men in the world, but possessed of a generous and kind nature. Capt. Dodson also states that he was one of nature's noblemen. He was extremely hospitable, and his little sixteen square log shanty, the first in Batavia, was frequently crowded with strangers. It has long been torn down and forgotten. It may also be considered the first tavern in the place, as Payne there entertained all the explorers who sought his door as long as he remained in Batavia, and it was the general and only resort. When Mr. Town, Harry Boardman,* afterward well known in Batavia, and a gentleman whose name has no connection with this history, visited the " Big Woods," in June, 1834, they found Payne comfortably located with his family, a parcel of land under cultivation, and a. yoke of oxen. That night there were sixteen lodged in his house. As Mrs. Payne was spreading the blankets upon the floor for the guests, one of them remarked that he could not imagine where she could dispose of them all, to which the good woman replied that there would be plenty of room as she had lodged twenty three there by tucking her children under her own bed. Mr. Town settled in the same month (June, 1834), on the West Side, and during the same year the settlement was increased by the arrival of Col. Lyon, James Latham, Joel McKee, James Risk, Titus Howe, and Wm. Vanderventer, all of whom took up claims near the preseut corporation limits. Cola Lyon arrived on the 24th of April, 1834, and remained in town during its settlement and much of its progress, but is now residing in California. James Latham likewise removed to California, where he died. Joel McKee died at his residence near Batavia some years ago. James Risk emigrated to Kansas, and Howe and Vandeventer are in their graves. Howe was the first to utilize the water power of the town, by building a dam and a frame for a saw mill at the lower end of the island in 1835, but the dam was carried away in a flood the following Spring. The property was purchased by Van Nortwick, Barker, House & Co., and the saw mill removed and operated by them further up the stream.
* Died near Naperville, 1877.

In 1835, a number of families settled in and about Batavia, among them Judge Wilson, William Van Nortwick and his son, John, and J. W. Churchill. The first was the father of Hon. Isaac G. Wilson, well known through the county, and located on the claim taken by Christopher Payne, the latter removing to parts unknown, according to his usual custom. The house which Judge Wilson erected is now occupied as a residence by Frank Snow, on the original site. To Wilson, who emigrated from Batavia, N. Y., the name of the town and village is due.

William Van Nortwick located on the West Side, and is long since deceased. His son is one of the most prominent manufacturers in Batavia, or in the State. J. W. Churchill has emigrated west.

The settlement of the country occupied by the present village had not been completed, by any means, in 1838, for Mr. J. Rockwell, who came in that year, and is now living in the place, says that there were not more than a half dozen families within its limits at the time of his arrival. Among them were Horace Town, deceased, and G. W. Fowler, still one of the prominent business men of the place.

During the earliest years of the occupation of the "Head of Big Woods," the nearest post office was Naperville. Letters came to that point for settlers in all parts of the region now known as Kane County, and some are now in existence directed "Naperville, Head of Big Woods," and "Naperville, McCarty's Mill." Owing to mistakes which frequently occurred, where so little was known of the country, it was often more convenient to receive messages from civilization at the Chicago office, and Mr. Town states that during his first year in Batavia he went there for his newspaper. But the settlers had not long to endure this inconvenience before a post office was established at Geneva; and in 1842, Judge Wilson was appointed the first Postmaster in Batavia.

A school was opened as early as 1835, and possibly in 1834, in a small log house. One Cleghorn was the earliest pedagogue.

In 1835, Father Clark preached the first sermon, in a grove near Payne's residence; and in June, of the same year, Joel McKee established the first store in town, on the West Side, near the northern line of the present corporation.

The first resident physician in the town was Dr. D. K. Town, the commencement of whose practice there dates from 1839. He is still a resident of the place, although retired from practice.

In 1835, J. W. Churchill located in the village as the first attorney, and in the following year was elected to the State Senate. He removed to Davenport, Iowa, about 1853.

The original plat of the village was laid out upon the East Side, in 1837, by Van Nortwick, Barker, House & Co.; that of the West Side in 1844, by John Van Nortwick.

A bridge was constructed in 1837 across the Fox River, and paid for by subscription; and in 1843, a second one, further up the stream. In 1854, the bridge from the East Side to the island was built, of the stone for which Batavia is so justly noted. In 1857, owing to some deficiency in its structure, a portion of it was carried away by a freshet, but it was immediately rebuilt by the town, in its present durable form, with six arches. It has cost $9,000, but has outlasted all the other bridges of its day in Kane County, and is the only stone bridge ever built across Fox River. Preparations are now being made to erect a similar one from the island to the west bank, and the materials are already on the ground.

In 1836, an election was held at the house of Judge Wilson, at which Mr. E. S. Town and the late Ira Minard, of St. Charles, were elected Justices of the Peace for Sandusky Precinct, which included Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles, and was bounded by no definite lines. Mr. Town was thus the first Justice in Batavia.

In the following year, the first hotel in the village - if we except Payne's house was opened by Charles Ballard, where the Revere House now stands.

The first child born in the town, and probably the first in the county, was 10, Dodson Vandeventer, still a resident of Batavia, who dates from October 1834.


Since the events recorded above, and within forty years, Batavia has taken an enviable position among the villages of the West. Her manufactures have found their way, not only to all parts of the United States, but to nearly every country on the globe; and in certain special products she not only leads the county and State, but the world.

After purchasing the water power of Titus Howe, and removing the sawmill, Van Nortwick, Barker, House & Co. built, near the site of the Challenge Mills, in 1837, the Batavia Mills, and operated them for a number of years, in custom work. Alison House then purchased them, and in 1850 they were purchased of his heirs by McKee & Moss. An extensive business was carried on until 1872, when the establishment burned down, and has never been rebuilt. It contained three run of stones, and a capacity of 500 barrels of flour per week. The principal proprietor, Mr. Joel McKee, died a few years later. An obituary writer in the Aurora Beacon paid a splendid tribute to his integrity by the simple statement, " Grain carried to his mill always held out well."

Saw Mills. - In 1844, John Van Nortwick erected a saw mill upon the island. A planing mill was attached to it at a later date, and the whole operated for several years, then sold to L. & D. Newton, and finally purchased by John Van Nortwick, the original proprietor, in whose possession it remains.

Barrel Factory. - In 1854, an old building which had previously been used as a distillery, standing upon the east side, nearly opposite the office of the Batavia News, was enlarged and converted into a barrel factory by Hoyt & Smith, who continued operations some two years, employing from twenty to twenty five men. The company then failed, and the property passed into the hands of E. S. Town; was used for a time by A Palmer, as a manufactory of sorghum, then by J. W. Eddy, as a flax factory, and was at length burned down, about 1864.

Wagon and Carriage Factory. - This extensive establishment was founded in 1854, by L. Newton & Co. Only thirty six wagons and thirty five buggies were made during the first year. The business, however, was gradually enlarged in 1857, the firm name was changed to Newton & Co., and in 1868 a great addition was made to their works, which included a magnificent stone front building, sixty feet square and three stories high, erected at a cost of $12,000. In December, 1872, during one of the coldest nights of the year, about two hundred feet were burned from the rear of the works, but the proprietors immediately rebuilt, and in the following year the Company was incorporated, with Levi Newton, President; D. C. Newton, Vice President, and H. K. Wolcott, Secretary. Since then, from eighty to one hundred hands have been employed, and during the year 1877, 1,500 farm wagons, 200 spring wagons and about 100 other carriages were taken from the shops. The work ranks in quality with the best in the market.

Island Mills. - The Island Mills, named from the location on the southern part of the business section of the island, were put up as flouring mills, in 1859, by Town, Pierce & Payne. After passing through various hands, they became (June 30, 1873) the property of the Batavia Paper Manufacturing Company, who lease to H. Cogger. A steady business is obtained and a good grade of flour made. The building, like so many others in the village, is of Batavia stone.

Pump Manufactory. - Messrs. Norris & Doty are the manufacturers of A No. 1 Pump, and are also engaged in doing a general business in woodwork. The manufacture of pumps is a long established industry in Batavia.

Batavia Paper Manufacturing Company. - The fine stone buildings occupied by this company were originally put up (about 1851) by the Fox River Manufacturing Company, for the construction of box cars. They laid idle until May, 1862, when they were purchased by Howland & Co., and converted into a paper mill. About 1866, the mill passed into the possession of the Chicago Fiber & Paper Company, which subsequently went into bankruptcy, and the property was bought, in August, 1870, by the present owners. The main building is formed of cut stone, is two stories high, with basement, and 150 feet long. The ground area of the combined buildings, aside from the sheds and warehouses, is 30,760 square feet. More than half of the buildings are of stone. Print paper has been made since 1862; from sixty to eighty hands are employed, and six tons of paper manufactured daily. The leading Chicago journals are or have been at various times supplied wholly or in part there. Two paper machines in the main building cost $25,000, and the establishment is the largest one of the kind in Illinois, or throughout the West beyond the Indiana and Ohio boundary. It is under the management of an incorporated company, of which John Van Nortwick is President.

The U. S. Wind Engine Pump Company was started in 1853, for the manufacture of the Halliday Wind Mill, pumps, feed mills, and fixtures. It is said to be the largest and best wind mill factory in the United States, and ships the manufactured article to all parts of the civilized world. Mr. Daniel Halliday, the inventor of the mill, is one of the best known and most respected business men in the country, and has contributed largely to the prosperity of the village. One hundred men are employed on an average in the shops. The company is incorporated and John Van Nortwick is the President.

Challenge Mills. - The Challenge Mill Company, engaged in the manufacture of the Nichols Wind Mill, feed mills, corn shellers, and pumps, commenced operations under the proprietorship of Burr & Armstrong, in 1867. Two hands performed the work at the commencement, but in 1869 the business was enlarged, and from that date to 1871, from thirty to fifty men were employed. On the 10th of March, 1872, the building was destroyed in the conflagration which also consumed the Batavia Mills. The loss of the Challenge Tills was in the neighborhood of $45,000, $20,000 of which was covered by insurance, but only $150 of the insurance was ever obtained. The company immediately commenced building on a larger scale than before, and on the afternoon of April 24, one month and fourteen days from the time of the destruction, the wheels were again set in motion. The number of men employed varies from twenty five to sixty, and the mills made are too well and favorably known to need any praise.

Batavia Foundry. - In 1867, Mr. A. N. Merrill started a small foundry at Batavia. Mr. D. R. Sperry subsequently purchased an interest in the concern, and in 1869 bought out Merrill. The foundry is now worked under the name of D. R. Sperry & Co., and has been engaged for some time in job work. From thirty to fifty hands are employed, and the hollow ware and other products shipped enjoy a wide spread reputation.

Osgood & Shuntway's Foundry. - In the Summer of 1872, Merrill & Shumway commenced the foundry business in the stone building on the island now occupied by Osgood & Shumway. The firm was changed to Merrill & Osgood for a period of less than a year, and in 1875 became known under its present name. A machine shop is attached to the foundry, and the number of tons of iron used in the works during the past year (1877) is 600. From thirty to forty men are employed. The business is principally contract work. There are, aside from the above, two other small foundries in the village.

The Batavia Manufacturing Company is engaged in the construction of Nichols Centennial Wind Mill, a patent tire shrinker and several the or small but standard articles. The company has but recently commenced on the island, near Osgood & Shumway's foundry, but the quality of the articles which are presented for the public patronage make the prospects of success extremely probable.

Cheese Factory. - A cheese factory has been opened in a substantial stone building, upon the ruins of the old flax mill, during the past season (1877). Its cheese is highly recommended by competent judges of the merits of the article, and we are told that the factory has been generally patronized by the farmers of the immediate vicinity.


To her quarries, next to her great manufacturing interests, has Batavia been indebted for her prosperity. In about 1842, Z. Reynolds opened the first on the West Side, since which time no less than ten have been operated success= fully, so far as success depended upon finding a quality of stone adapted to all building purposes. It is obtained from two inches in thickness to three feet and three inches, and of as large an area as can be moved. Single blocks eight to ten inches thick, nine feet wide and twenty feet long have been shipped from the quarries to Chicago. It is a quality of limestone, and equal to any limestone quarried for building.

Extensive kilns have been built by J. T. & F. P. Brady above one of the quarries which had not proved a financial success; and from the limestone, which lies ten feet deep above the building stone, they are manufacturing an excellent quality of lime.

A history of the quarries and their successive transfers from owner to owner to the present time would not interest the general reader. Hundreds of hands have found employment in them, and they have not only contributed to the prosperity of the place by bringing wealth from outside and furnishing employment for its laborers, but by placing at convenient distances, and for a merely nominal sum, a material with which to build its schools, churches, manufacturing establishments, business blocks, many of its private residences and the sidewalks of its principal streets, lasting as the eternal hills.


The O., O. & F. R. V. Railroad and the C., B. & Q. are sufficiently noticed in the chapter upon Aurora. Each enter Batavia, and each have depots within the corporation limits. In 1873, the Chicago & Northwestern Road, wishing to use the Batavia stone for building its extensive shops in West Chicago, laid a track from Geneva to Batavia and opened a convenient and handsome depot there on the 5th of May. Many of the citizens, who had hitherto shipped their freight over the other roads, immediately commenced business with the Northwestern, and it now furnishes a thoroughfare for the transportation of more than half the freight that leaves the village. The entire business of the branch track amounts to $40,000 per annum; that of the C., B. & Q., from Batavia, $19,000, and the Fox River Valley, about $7,200. Nine trains leave the Batavia depots daily.

The business of the Western Union Telegraph Company, at the C., B. & Q. depot, amounts to about $50.00 per month.

West Side. - The West Side School is situated in District No. 5, which extends from the Aurora line across the line which separates Batavia from the town of Geneva. A building was erected near the present site, about 1852, at a cost of some $1,200; but as it became unsuitable to the requirements of the growing village, it was determined by the citizens to erect a structure which should be an honor to their enterprise and intelligence as long as time permitted it to stand. Accordingly, in 1867, the imposing pile, which is the first object to greet the eye on approaching the village, was commenced and completed in the following year, at a cost of $27,100. It contains four departments, five teachers are employed, and 216 pupils receive instruction there. Present Principal, A. S. Barry.

East Side. - The East Side School, although less ambitious in its architecture, is a large structure of the same durable material, completed in 1860 at a cost of about nine thousand dollars It is located in District No. 6. Six teachers are employed in its several departments, and 472 pupils are in attendance. O. T. Snow is the present Principal.


Congregational. - Mention has already been made of the early preaching of Rev. N. C. Clark, whose first sermon in Kane County was delivered in August, 1834, at the house of Christopher Payne. During the following year, the old records state that he again preached in an old school house on the east side of the river, within the limits of a farm now owned by Spencer Johnson; and that on the 8th of August, 1835, the Congregational Church, known as "Big Woods Church," was first organized as a Presbyterian church, with fourteen members. This was the first organized religious denomination in Kane County. On the 29th of January, 1841, the first Presbyterian Church was dedicated in the village, and on the 11th of November, 1843, the change was made in name and form, and the church became Congregational. Later, members were dismissed to assist in the organization of churches at Elgin, St. Charles, Geneva and Aurora. In 1853, the old building was enlarged; and in 1856, the second house of worship was erected, at a cost of about thirteen thousand dollars, being at the time of its completion the best church edifice on Fox River. The old building was afterward purchased by the Catholics. The membership of the Congregational Church has been increased from the original fourteen to 200.

The Methodist Episcopal denomination was one of the very earliest to appear in Batavia, as in nearly every other new country. The building now occupied by them was erected in 1852, and cost $4,000. Present membership, 177.

Baptist. - The Baptist Church, called at first the Regular Church of Christ, at Big Woods, was organized June 16, 1836. Its first members were Isaac Wilson and Susanna Wilson, his wife, Major Osborn and Sophia Osborn, his wife, Hiram Park, Malesson Haynes, Levi Ward, Fanny Wilson, Silas T. Ward, William E. Burt and Lydia llurlburt. Elder R. B. Ashley was its first. pastor. After the Congregationalists had built a church, the Baptists occupied it alternately with them for a number of years, but, in 1850, they built the house of worship which they still occupy. The present membership is 110.

Episcopal. - Many years ago, an Episcopal Church was formed in Batavia, and, in process of time, a wooden building was put up; this occurred about twenty years ago, but the building, being poorly constructed, was blown down. The organization, however, still exists, and meetings are held in Buck's Hall, the Rector from Geneva, Rev. N. J. O'Brian, officiating. Present membership, sixty eight.

Catholic. - The Catholics organized about 1855, and have since occupied the old Congregational Church. Several years ago, an effort was made to erect a new building, and the foundation was' laid on the East Side, but it remains unfinished to date.

The German Methodist Episcopal organization was formed in Batavia under the name of the German Evangelical Association of North America, about 1860, and their building erected in 1866, which they still occupy. It stands on the east side of the river, and is a small but well built wooden edifice.

Colored Methodist Episcopal. - No sooner had the result of the late war decided the future destiny of the colored population in this country, than a number of that race flocked to Batavia and, in 1865, put up a small wooden church. Present membership, about twenty five.

The Disciples organized in the village with eleven members, in December, 1852, and reorganized in February of the following year. M. W. Lord was the first preacher. In 1867, they had attained sufficient strength to build a church, and have continued steadily increasing.

Swedenborgian. - In the Fall of 1868, a Swedenborgian organization was formed in Buck's Hall, under the leadership of H. O. Snow. There were but fifteen members at first, but their numbers have increased slowly, and at present the membership is about twenty three. In the Fall of 1874, they purchased a lot on the West Side and made preparations to build, but the financial crisis occurring about the same time, and several of the members suffering thereby, the project was postponed and the lot sold. The society still meets regularly in the original place of worship

The Free Will Baptists undertook to form a permanent society in the place a few years ago, but, being few and weak in numbers, never attempted to build, and at length discontinued preaching.

Swedish Methodist Episcopal. - In September, 1870, Rev. August Weigren preached to a small Swedish congregation in the village. In the following year, a church having been organized, efforts were made to build, the result of which was the little brown wood church on the West Side, completed in 1872. There are now about thirty six members.

Independent Swedish Evangelical Lutheran. - Four members of this branch of the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church, in Batavia, used to meet in private houses for worship in 1870. There were no other members of that organization in the place, but others came, and in 1872, they rented Fowler's Hall, and in 1876, built a small wood church on the West Side. Rev. I. N. Sangren was their first preacher. The organization is still small, numbering not more than sixteen members.

Swedish Lutheran. - Fifty two members were dismissed, in 1872, from the Swedish Lutheran Church, in Geneva, to organize a church in Batavia. The old stone school house was purchased and converted into a very comfortable house of worship, in which Rev. Mr. Lyndale, the resident Pastor in Geneva, preached once in two weeks. The members steadily increased, and at the present time the membership is one hundred, enjoying regular preaching weekly from a resident Pastor, Rev. Mr. Ternstadt.

In the Spring of 1835, a Union Sabbath School, the first in the county, was organized in Batavia.


About ten years ago, a society, formed by the young people of the village for literary purposes, commenced a library. The use of the volumes was limited to members of the organization, and outsiders were not allowed to remove them from the shelves. Several of the intelligent business men feeling the need of a collection of books to which all should have free access. the society was induced to contribute its collection to that purpose, and with liberal subscriptions in money from many of the citizens, 700 volumes were obtained. This number has been increased, by general subscriptions, to 1,000. The rules of the association are exceedingly liberal. Any one - a resident of the village or a stranger - above fourteen years of age, is allowed to remove a volume at a time and retain it for two weeks. It contains many valuable works of romance and books of reference, history and biography. Its officers are John Van Nortwick, President; J. O. McClellan, Vice President; Wm. Burnham, Treasurer; F. H. Buck, Librarian. It is supported by subscription, some of the citizens contributing largely for its increase and support. Its President has given $100 annually, since its organization.


E. S. and Dr. D. K. Town were, from the commencement of the village, among the most enterprising in the promotion of every object which was projected for its prosperity, and accordingly, in 1853-4, they built, with the assistance of others, prominent among whom were John Van Nortwick, Joel McKee and Rev. Stephen Peet, an institution of learning, on the West Side, which enjoyed, for about ten years, a high reputation. The adoption of the school law rendered the continuation of the school less essential to the welfare of Batavia, and the building was, therefore, sold and fitted for a private asylum for the insane It is built of cut stone; cost, originally, some $20,000. and $10,000 have since been expended upon it. It commands a beautiful view, and is thus appropriately named. The grounds connected with the building are under excellent cultivation, and the green houses cover an area of 10,000 square feet. No serious accident has occurred since the hospital was opened. It is under the medical care of Dr. R. J. Patterson, formerly Medical Superintendent of the Indiana State Hospital for the Insane, late Medical Superintendent of the Iowa State Hospital for the Insane, and formerly Professor of Medical Jurisprudence in the Chicago Medical College.

The institution is arranged with special reference to the treatment of patients who possess means to defray their expenses, and one of the main objects sought is to give the entire establishment the character of a home, and not a prison. Hence the insane and useless restraints which are often thrown around the unfortunate patient in other hospitals are here removed, together with everything revolting to the senses, while luxury and elegance abound on all sides. " Who enters here bids hope farewell" needs not to be engraved above its doors, as upon a majority of the so called asylums, and the patient who cannot recover under the kind treatment of its genial owner and Superintendent may be said to be indeed incurable.


About 1852, a "Democratic campaign paper, called the Expositor, was started in Batavia, by James Risk and others, but, before becoming firmly established, it died a natural death. Subsequently, a second attempt, by other parties, to establish a paper proved equally futile; but, in 1869, Messrs. Roof & Lewis issued the first copy of the Batavia News, which has been published ever since. In May, 1870, Mr. O. B. Merrill purchased Roof's interest, and, in October of the same year, was bought out by Mr. Lewis, its present editor and proprietor. It claims to be independent in politics, is a six column quarto. 30x44, and is printed on a steam power press. Circulation, 480. The Fox River Times was issued by Roof, Gates & Fox, in the Summer of 1876, and was an eight column folio, surpassing, in the neatness of its typography, every other paper on Fox River. It died in less than three months.


Batavia was incorporated as a village in April, 1856. Its first Trustees were John Van Nortwick, Orsamus Wilson, M. N. Lord, D. U. Griffin and George E. Corwin. Few villages possess greater advantages, natural or artificial. Aside from those which have been mentioned are its excellent water power and its favorable distance from the great city of Chicago, while it already contains the common protections and social organizations of large cities - a fire company, cornet band, Masonic Lodge, and various other associations.

(Also see history of the Township of Batavia)

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