By Mayor Jeffery Schielke
It has been suggested that with the Fox River as the centerpiece, Batavia in some ways looks like a town that time has left alone. Still other people have observed that life in our town fits the description of small town life written about by the likes of Mark Twain or Sinclair Lewis. A recent promotional brochure for a Batavia subdivision perhaps said it best, ‘live in a town like towns used to be.’ Little wonder then, that in 1958 Batavia was the subject of one of those legendary covers on the ‘Saturday Evening Post’ or that today most of the city’s streets are named after U.S. Presidents, trees, American Indians, or prominent Batavia people or places.
Indeed, Batavia of the 2000’s maintains its own small town character and ideals while striving to be very much in tune with the technologies and opportunities of modern-day life. Each of these intangible features thus makes our town a favorite place for living, working and raising a family.
The Batavia story is one of heritage. Founded in 1833, it is the oldest city in Kane County. Our original founding father, a trailblazer named Christopher Payne, had participated in the founding of nearby Naperville, and after leaving his mark on Batavia, did a similar thing at the place which was to become Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Batavia began leaving its mark on the world early. Nicknamed ‘The Windmill City’, the title was justly earned by our industrial role at the turn of the century as the windmill manufacturing capital of the world. The popular Quarry Park Swimming Pool is another product of our past, for the stone mined from this earthly depression was used in large part to rebuild Chicago after the famous fire of 1871. Newton Wagons and Appleton Farm Machinery, two products which played a vital role in the settling of the American frontier, also had their origins in Batavia. The former Appleton building, which today is Batavia’s city and township government center at 100 North Island Avenue, was previously used in the 1960’s as an industrial complex where many of the rocket components were actually manufactured which first took U.S. astronauts to the moon.
Today, Batavia remains the home of over 200 varied manufacturing, research and warehousing firms as well as proudly serving as hometown for the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, world-renown center for high energy physics research, and Mooseheart, the international ‘child-city’ of the Moose Lodge.
Above all else, our town is a haven for talented and friendly people and once again there is a lot of heritage to be drawn upon. Judge Samuel D. Lockwood, who lived across the street from the West Batavia Cemetery in the 1850’s, was a friend of Abraham Lincoln. In 1875, at Bellevue Place Sanitarium on South Jefferson Street, Mary Todd Lincoln, then the widow of the late President, was a patient for a brief period of time. Dr. Bernard Cigrand, the originator of the American Flag Day observance on June 14 of each year, also called Batavia his home as did the Reverend Faye Arnold Moon, grandfather of Colonel Edwin Aldrin, one of the first American astronauts to land on the Moon in 1969. In more recent time, Batavia has been the hometown for such recognized faces as professional basketball great Dan Issel, Super Bowl quarterback Ken Anderson, pro-golfer Sharon Moran and musical singing star Jackie de Shannon.
The real strengths of our town are found in the community commitment to its institutions and its quality of life. The Batavia School District is ranked as one of the most educationally advanced systems in the State of Illinois and city’s long-standing record of support towards quality education for our children is a legend of envy and admiration throughout the Fox River Valley. Batavia’s new modern spacious library facility and its expanding park system also speak towards our dreams of the future.
Batavia is a town of traditions. Christmas Tree Lane throughout downtown during December, the annual 4th of July Fireworks Show, the Windmill City Festival of mid-July, or the annual Brotherhood Banquet calling together men from all churches for a night of unified fellowship are testimony of our love of tradition.
Yes, Batavia has become a place where many people have found that they want to live. Population figures truly tell the story as Batavia grew from a population of 7,496 in 1960 to a census count of 23,866 in 2000.
As you might be able to tell there is a lot about Batavia that makes it a special place. The sentiments of many Batavia residents are perhaps best summed up by the words of an old Batavia High School basketball cheer which proclaimed, “we’re from Batavia and we couldn’t be prouder!”
This historical information in the links below were compiled from books by the late John Gustafson, our current Mayor, Jeff Schielke and Marilyn Robinson.
If you would like more detailed information, the books and others are available at the Batavia Public Library. You may also wish to contact the Batavia Historical Society.