Business & Industry

Early Businesses

Water Powered Factories

The 1st manufacturing business in Big Woods was John Gregg's blacksmith shop. Because the water from the Fox River could be used for power, factories were built upon its banks. The pond stretched from Illinois Avenue and Church Street on the north to First Street on the south. At First Street, the water ran through man made channels to the factories to feed the turbines that ran their equipment. The men who built the factories here made windmills, farm wagons and paper.

Batavia Mills

In 1844, the VanNortwick family built a dam on the north end of the island to produce waterpower where they built a grain mill. The company was called Batavia Mills and they produced 500 barrels of flour a week, shipping much of it to Chicago. The mill burned down in 1872 and was not rebuilt. The VanNortwicks also built a sawmill, running the company for many years.

North River Street Foundry

A distillery was built at 27 N River Street for the making of wine to be shipped to Chicago. When going out of business, the building was used for a barrel factory, giving way in 2 years to a company that manufactured sorghum, then a flax mill. This building even served as Batavia's 1st jail for a short period of time.

Batavia Creamery

In 1864, the Batavia Creamery was built and shipped products to Chicago and even as far away as New Orleans and England. There was a large pit in front of the creamery where all the spoiled milk was dumped, thus earning its name as Buttermilk Alley. Today, this area is now State Street.

Levi Wagons

Benjamin Danforth built a shop in 1851 at the corner of College and Church Street, shipping a full railroad car monthly to Chicago. Levi Newton arrived in Batavia in 1854, building a shop to manufacture farm wagons. The shop burned down in 1874, but was rebuilt. By 1887 it was one of the largest wagon factories in the United States, making 5,000 wagons a year. The factory closed down in 1916.

Shumway Foundry

Mr. Merrill and Mr. Shumway started a foundry on Shumway Avenue, then called Mechanic Street, and is still in operation today. There was a factory built to manufacture gloves, mittens and robes in 1873 on Wilson Street. John Mole built Tire Shrinker Works near River Street. He also made a target practice device and gun and ammunition testers.

VanNortwick Paper Company

In 1870, John VanNortwick bought an empty building at 140 First Street, starting the VanNortwick Paper Company, becoming one of the largest paper mills in Illinois. The building is still in use.

An illustration of a Levi Wagon

The Windmill City

Batavia earned its nickname "The Windmill City" because of the many windmills made in Batavia. The current symbol of Batavia is the windmill. Nelson Burr came to Batavia in 1857, building the 1st pump factory in Illinois called Challenge Wind Mill and Feed Mill Company. He also made windmills and farm equipment.

United States Wind Engine & Pump Company

The United States Wind Engine and Pump Company was founded in 1863 by John VanNortwick, Smith Mallory and Daniel Halladay to make wooden wind mills invented by Mr. Halladay. It was the largest factory of its kind in the world. There was also the Appleton Company making windmills and farm equipment at the time. The building of wind mills ended in the early 1940's.

A group of men working on the framework of a windmill

First Bank

The first bank was built in 1856 by William Coffin. There were no supermarkets until 1961 Jewel and Walt's opened, otherwise people just went to the neighborhood grocer.

Other Businesses

These are but a few of the histories of business in Batavia. There is also a history of:

  • Ice harvesting, which ended near 1930
  • Limestone quarries, ending in the early 1900s
  • Dry goods stores
  • Furniture, carpet and coffin companies
  • Grocery, drug, and millinery stores