Monthly Archives: April 2012

Boulder Hill school a fun anniversary celebration…

It was fun and interesting both to be invited to the 50th anniversary party at Boulder Hill School on Friday, April 20. The school tapped me, Pat Torrance of Montgomery, and the redoubtable State Rep. Kay Hatcher to talk to a student assembly about the history of Boulder Hill and of the school.

After classes were dismissed, a group of us were invited to speak again, this time to a mixed group of staff, students, and parents at the building to attend an anniversary open house. Kay had to leave, and her place was filled by Cliff Fox, who is the nephew of Margaret Dise, wife of Don L. Dise, Boulder Hill’s founder. Pat and I gave our parts of the program, and Cliff recounted some really interesting behind-the-scenes stuff about Boulder Hill. One of the graphics shown on the big screen in Boulder Hill’s cafetorium, from the Little White School Museum’s collections, was the architect’s drawing, below, of the school:


Here are a few fun facts about Boulder Hill’s early years the folks at the celebration learned:

1. The success of the development was due to the two G.I. Bills passed by Congress (for World War II and Korea veterans)  from whence came most of the money to buy the houses there.

2. No foreclosures were allowed by Dise. His real estate company bought houses before they could be foreclosed, thus eliminating the whole idea of vacant homes in the development.

3. Dise was a visionary, who not only contributed, free of charge, the 12 acres on which to build Boulder Hill School and another adjoining parcel on which the Boulder Hill Neighborhood Church of the Brethren was built, but who also donated $100 for every building permit that had been issued by the time construction on the school began.

4. The vote to issue bonds to build Boulder Hill School passed 1,340 to 199, surely the most lop-sided school referendum vote in Oswego School District history.

A fun history time was had by all…


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Filed under Illinois History, Kendall County, Montgomery, Nostalgia, Oswego, People in History, Semi-Current Events

Everything was new once, even cemeteries…

Certain things seem to us like they’ve been there forever. But, of course, the fact is, everything had to start sometime. Even cemeteries.

Take Lincoln Memorial Park for instance. It’s Kendall County’s largest cemetery, and unlike most of our cemeteries, didn’t start as a family or municipal burying ground. Rather, it was designed from the get-go as a cemetery. And oddly enough, it was touted by its developers as an investment machine as well as a place where a person’s mortal remains would rest for eternity.

The Lincoln Highway Cemetery, as it was first named, was situated along a brand new stretch of the coast-to-coast Lincoln Highway, U.S. Route 30. That stretch of road had been previously known as the Joliet Road south of Aurora. But in 1923, Kendall County purchased right of way to allow the course of the highway to curve to the left immediately east of the future cemetery, leaving what is now named Harvey Road behind and curving towards and paralleling the EJ&E right-of-way. As it was, the county board only had to buy about two miles of right-of-way, since the Lincoln Highway’s new route to Plainfield just clipped the corner of Oswego Township. As the Kendall County Record explained on Feb. 14, 1923:

The new right-of-way in Kendall county for the Lincoln highway is necessitated by a relocating of the route to shorten the distance between Plainfield and Aurora.

Interestingly enough, $1,000 of the purchase price of the right-of-way was donated by the Aurora Good Roads Council, the members of which were anxious to have their city connected to the paved coast-to-coast highway. On May 9, the Record reported that, with the right-of-way in hand, the state had awarded the low bid to build the slightly more than 5 mile section of highway from Plainfield to Aurora to the Chicago Heights Coal Company for $222,000. That was to pay for paving the road only, and did not include any work at the modern intersection of U.S. Route 30 and U.S. Route 34. Thanks to the Great Depression, it would be more than a decade before that interchange was designed and completed.

The backers of the Lincoln Highway promoted and encouraged businesses along its route to name themselves after the road. Lincoln Way in DeKalb (Route 38), for instance, is a leftover from that era, as is Lincoln Way in North Aurora–now Ill. Route 31. So naming the cemetery after the famed highway, newly paved along much of its route by 1929, was a good business decision.

The 93-acre cemetery was located on a portion of the old Gast farm, formerly the Albee farm, and the historic Albee House on the property was used as the cemetery offices. The brick Albee House was built about 1858, and was one of the Gast farmhouses until it was sold to the cemetery company. The cemetery officially opened in January 1929, but development work was not apparently completed until the autumn of that year. It wasn’t until October that advertisements for it appeared in the Kendall County Record.

Here’s how a half-page advertisement in the Oct. 2, 1929 Kendall County Record promoted the brand new Lincoln Highway Cemetery:




Located on the permanent Highway Route 22, Kendall County’s newest park and lawn cemetery.

LINCOLN HIGHWAY CEMETERY was established January 1929. A charter was obtained from the state of Illinois in the same month. Active developments were started in May.

LINCOLN HIGHWAY CEMETERY is within 2 miles of the city limits of Aurora and is easily and quickly accessible to Chicago and suburban towns, yet it is removed from the encroachments of a rapidly growing city.

The founders had the wise forethought and prudent management to provide for future requirements in the inception and creation of a perpetual care fund to prevent the cemetery becoming a financial burden upon posterity..

LINCOLN HIGHWAY CEMETERY has earned the reputation of providing the best in cemetery location, environment, service, and perpetual care.

By next year, LINCOLN HIGHWAY CEMETERY will have a Ladies’ Flower Association, the membership of which will be composed of one or more women from the majority of families represented in the cemetery. The association will afford substantial cooperation and encouragement to the management. Flower day will be celebrated in June each year and will be sponsored by this association. It will be LINCOLN HIGHWAY CEMETERY’S annual memorial to those who sleep within its bounds.

A flood light 90 feet high will illuminate the cemetery at night. LINCOLN HIGHWAY CEMETERY will have its own privately owned and operated water system, furnishing an abundant volume of pure, clean water under high pressure from its own artesian well and reservoir to all parts of the cemetery. Hydrants will be so located as to be readily accessible for watering flowers for any grave.

The purchase of a lot in LINCOLN HIGHWAY CEMETERY is the very best investment in real property. It is an assurance against loss if held for ultimate use or a source of profit if bought and sold.

Investigate and you will learn that cemetery values in and near large centers of population have increased ten-fold during the past 20 years and cemetery properties are tax-free.

While it is the intention of the management as far as possible to call on every resident of Kendall County and explain more in detail the outstanding features of LINCOLN HIGHWAY CEMETERY, we would in all sincerity invite you to visit this cemetery and sense the beauty of its appeal to the fitness of your final needs and invest under conditions with your means and add immeasurably to your present peace of mind and your sense of security.

For information, Telephone Oswego 121 or address


Aurora, Illinois

Box 111

Today, the cemetery remains one of the largest in Kendall County. But it was new once, just like everything else.

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Filed under Illinois History, Kendall County, Oswego, Semi-Current Events

Fun program; great questions…

The program at the LWS Museum last night was quite successful, I’d say. We had right around 20 paying customers, plus a few more OHA board members attend.

Thanks to Jody Behrens from the Village Grind for bringing treats. I love treats! Instead of our usual bottled water, we enjoyed three (count ’em!) kinds of coffee and bumble berry pie. I love pie!

The question and answer session was particularly fun, with lots of interesting questions and fun discussions. During the evening, we managed to get off on the topic of the ice industry in Oswego, and questions brought up some neat information hiding in my brain. Such as ice harvesting was not confined to the Fox River. Granted, Esch Brothers & Rabe had a huge ice harvesting operation just above the Parker mills and dam. But others also harvested ice for sale. There was the Fox River Creamery in Oswego and the local Oswego butcher shop who contracted with the Hopkins family to harvest ice off their limestone quarries along Wolf’s Crossing Road, just outside the village. And there was Charles Smith, whose ice harvesting operation on Waubonsie Creek was conducted for several years after Esch Brothers’ ice business ceased operating in Oswego. In fact, the old dam for the Smith ice operation is one of the structures now being removed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to make the creek once more a free-flowing stream.

So, all in all, a fun evening of local history…

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Filed under Food, Fox River, Kendall County, Oswego

Program tonight! Don’t be late!

I’ll be talking about the history of downtown Oswego and its evolution during the past 177 years tonight at the Little White School Museum, starting at 7 p.m. Admission donation is $5.

Lots of great photos and (my favorite!) maps. Got a great photo of Little Oscar in Oswego for the grand opening of Bohn’s Food Store in 1954. Should be lots of fun…come on over!

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Filed under Kendall County, Nostalgia, Oswego, Semi-Current Events

The Jefferson Key…

Just read a book, via my iPod’s Kindle app, titled The Jefferson Key.

The plot of this thriller seemed like an interesting one, involving Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, pirates, presidential assassins, official and unofficial governmental skullduggery, and lots of action. And the plot was interesting.

However, this novel could have greatly benefited from some skilled editing. The modern pirate’s ship is referred to as a sloop. Sloops are single-masted sailing vessels with one fore and aft sail and a jib. This “sloop” was three-masted with square sails–in other words a ship-rigged vessel.

The author claims the mills at Jefferson’s Monticello produced corn and wheat. Mills don’t produce corn and wheat; farm fields do. Mills produce corn and wheat flour.

For me, these kinds of silly errors really get in the way of the story the author is telling.

Here’s the skinny: ASIN:0345505522 The Jefferson Key (with bonus short story “The Devil’s Gold”): A Novel. If you’re interested, I’d advise checking it out of the library; don’t waste your precious Kindle dollars.

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Filed under Frustration, Semi-Current Events, Uncategorized

Okay, time for some geek music…

It’s Friday the 13th, and the living is sort of slow and goofy.

If you’re looking for a little mood music to put a smile on your face today–or any day, for that matter–click through this link to YouTube and enjoy…

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Filed under Science stuff, Semi-Current Events, Uncategorized

Reliving the worst of local history over and over…

Over the past several months, just about all the top administrators in the Oswego area community have decided to bail out of town. What’s going on? Well, mostly, it’s what happens when voters hire extreme activists as board members instead of people who have the long-term welfare of the agencies they’re seeking to run in mind.

There are exceptions, of course. Bill McAdam, for instance, is leaving the park district because he not only got a better job, but it’s closer to his current home as well as to his home town.

But Oswego’s village administrator was driven out by toxic politics, as has Montgomery’s excellent village manager, probably one of the best in the Fox Valley. In Montgomery’s case, it appears that activist board members whose ideology has outstripped their common sense simply had too many problems with a smart, capable woman in a top administrative position. The Oswego School District superintendent is also leaving, along with every other top manager, due to philosophical disagreements with the school board. They’re substantive differences, too, some of the most serious dealing with school board members’ determination to ignore–if not intentionally violate–the School Code of the State of Illinois.

About all we, who didn’t vote for any of the people making these terrible and destructive decisions, can do now is wait for the inevitable melt-down and the general public’s disgust to get some decent board members elected again. We’ve seen it happen time after time, and, in fact, it’s sort of an area tradition dating back to at least the 1890s.

In the spring 1890 elections for Oswego Village Board, a political earthquake struck. The election campaign in Oswego was typically sleepy, with the same candidates running for the same offices, which back then required annual elections. But there was an activist undercurrent. Sort of like today’s right wing, Tea Party affiliated ideological activist politicians, a group of ardent prohibitionists got themselves elected to stamp out Oswego’s saloons. As Lorenzo Rank, the Oswego correspondent for the Kendall County Record reported on April 16, 1890:

Oswego was struck Tuesday by a tidal wave of temperance mixed with a good deal of something else. The no-license ticket was elected by 37 majority out of a vote of 141, G.H. [Gustavus H.] Voss as president and Sam Jessup, Will I. Kennedy, and Harley Richards as trustees were elected.

The next week, Rank reported:

There hasn’t such surprise been caused by any corporation election in Oswego as by that of last Tuesday since the time of the “Finnigins,” and that is so long ago this generation doesn’t know anything about it. The pulling through of the temperance ticket was thought possible, but only by the skinning of the teeth, and the question now is, “To what is this great victory due?” Some hold it resulted from the religious revival last fall; others that it was brought through the influence of the temperance organizations. Then there are those who argue that “all the good comes through evil,” and that it is due to the much drunkenness lately exhibited. It is also said that internal dissension was the cause, that a vigorous knifing of each other of the license men had been going on. But no matter about the cause, let it be known that Oswego is now temperance 2-1..The new members of the board are quite young; all are yet in the 20s, the president being but 23 years old. Some refer to them as “the kids of the board,” but they are displaying as much dignity and statesmanship as the best ever on the board.

And the “kids” got right to work, abolishing the village’s saloon licenses, which was fine as far as it went. The problem was, however, that saloon licenses were virtually the village’s sole source of revenue. That meant that plans to extend the village’s water system and it’s growing web of concrete sidewalks was stopped in its tracks. In response, and in a move that mirrors what has happened when modern politicians attempted to fight ideological activist majorities, the pro-license members of the board simply refused to attend meetings, denying quorums for nearly the entire ensuing year.

By the following spring, the voters–then all male–in Oswego decided enough was enough and a pro-license ticket of village board members was elected. Rank explained the who thing pretty clearly, with some advice to modern would-be activists:

The greatest difficulty about government is not how to manage the people or the affairs of the country, but it is how the officials shall manage themselves. At the commencement of the new village administration last year, the “kids,” or new members, and being in the majority, started out somewhat brash, carelessly brushing away the suggestions the old members were making, as much as to say, “We are going to run this here machine.” The old members then refused to attend any more of the meetings, thus breaking the quorum and the village was left to run itself and perhaps as one full as well as with the help of the board.

When the votes were counted in the April 1891 village election, the anti-license “kids” had been crushed by huge majorities, most likely done in, as Rank suggested, by their own hubris.

Is there a moral here for modern politicians at the local, state, and national levels. Sure there is, but morals abound in history. The problem is politicians seldom ever pay any attention whatsoever to them. Mostly, I suspect, this is because politicians are not the sharpest bunch of knives in the drawer; they tend to be folks without deep understandings of much beyond their own mindsets. It’s really up to voters to dig into candidates’ views on all sorts of subjects to determine whether or not they deserve to be entrusted with the public trust; far too many don’t. As it now stands, those of us who know our history are forever condemned to watching others repeat it, with sadly predictable results.


April 10, 2012 · 4:14 pm

School days!

Boy, those were the days. I’ve been sort of immersed in Kendall County ca. 1875 for the past few weeks, and came across an interesting rundown of schools in the county at that time in a November issue of the Kendall County Record. There were 79 school districts, and…but here, just read the report:

Some School Statistics

We make an abstract of the County Superintendent’s Report to Hon. S.M. Etter, State Superintendent, and offer it for the examination of our readers.

The census report from the different towns gives us 5,674 persons under 21 years of age against 5,890 in 1874 and 6,097 in 1873, showing a gradual decrease in the number of minors in the county.

Of the total number in the county under 21 years, 2,821 are males and 2,853 are females.

There are 79 school districts; and the average number of months school is kept in the county is 7.53 each year.

The total number of pupils enrolled in the different schools is 3,205, against 3,118 in 1874 and 3,256 in 1873, showing nearly the same attendance each year.

The total number of male teachers employed during the year was 44; female teachers, 108; whole number of teachers engaged during the year, 152.

The report of school libraries is very deficient and shows that branch of improvement has gone to decay.

Bristol reports two districts having libraries with 226 volumes; Kendall reports three districts having libraries with 140 volumes. That is all. As no additions have been made to these libraries since they were first bought, it might be well to have that item omitted from all future reports.

The total expenditures for the year were $31,901.60; balance on hand in the townships, $9,306.90.

The highest wages paid to a teacher was $110 a month; the lowest was $20 a month.

$31,901 looks like a large sum to be expended in one year on our schools, but it is not much per scholar when averaged. According to the total number of pupils enrolled in our schools, it costs $9.95 per year to school each pupil. According to the number of school age, it will take $8.65 per year per pupil.

Sort of interesting, don’t you think? Especially the part about the county’s population decreasing. That was to continue for several more decades until it finally turned around and the population started growing again.

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Filed under Illinois History, Kendall County, People in History

History quickie…

So it’s August 1872 in Kendall County. The weather’s hot and humid. What do you look for as a refreshing, non-alcoholic drink?

From the Aug. 15, 1872 Kendall County Record:

Iced tea is now in season. It is very nice and appropriate served at evening croquet parties, and it will also be found refreshing and gently invigorating at the dinner hour. Those in the habit of using it assert that no drowsiness follows its use in hot weather, and it is therefore invaluable to people of sedentary occupation and habits.

That’s right; iced tea was a big hit 140 years ago. I imagine you have a few questions, like where did they get the ice? And who thought the whole thing up? Don’t know, but it’s still a pretty cool historical factoid, don’t you think?

This concludes our lesson in historical refreshments…

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Filed under Food, Illinois History, Kendall County, Nostalgia

Helping the big boys and girls down in Springfield…

It’s not often little shops like the Little White School Museum get to help the really big boys in the history game, but today was one of those days.

The news broke earlier today, spread all over the Midwest by the Associated Press, that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield had acquired a photo of a black Civil War veteran for their collection. It is significant because it’s the only known photograph of a black veteran from Illinois.

Our part of the story begins when my buddy Glenn stopped by the museum today and demanded to know why I hadn’t told him he’d held a historical treasure in his own two hands, to which I professed ignorance. He suggested I use the Google to find “Nathan Hughes,” which I did, coming across a list of the stories about the find.

What Glenn was referring to was that the Little White School Museum also has a fairly pristine copy of the same photo in our collections, donated more than 20 years ago by the Collins family. The Lincoln Library folks seemed a little unclear on Nathan Hughes’ biography, so I e-mailed them a bunch of stuff from our collections, to which Kathryn Harris, library services director, immediately and enthusiastically responded.

Nathan Hughes saw some hard campaigning during the war before coming back to Illinois to farm out on Minkler Road southeast of Oswego. He was a valued member of the farming community out there and was the only black member of a Grand Army of the Republic post in Kendall County. His grandson, Ferdinand Smith, was the first black male to graduate from high school in Kendall County–right here in Oswego. And Ferdinand’s sister was the first black female high school graduate in Kendall County.

Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Hughes sat for this rare photo of a black Civil War veteran's formal portrait at the Yorkville studio of Sigmund Benensohn sometime between 1893, when Benesohn bought the Sabin Studio, and 1901 when he sold it to Charles Jessup.

When Nathan died in 1910, here’s what the Kendall County Record had to say in his obituary in their March 9 edition:

Word came to Yorkville Monday morning that Mr. Nathan Hughes had died at his home Monday morning, aged 86 years, at his home in Specie Grove. Mr. Hughes was a well-known colored man who served his country as a Union soldier during the civil war. He was a member of Yorkville Post, GAR. Comrade Hughes was respected by his neighbors and the comrades of the Post; he was always a gentleman in his intercourse with our people and his color made no difference in his reception by his friends. It is a pleasure to bear testimony to his worth as a man and a patriot; he was loyal to his country and in all his associations was a quiet, self-possessed man of the best of traits. Comrade Hughes had been failing health for a long time, but was patient and courteous till the end came. A good citizen, he has left a vacant place in the ranks of the “boys in blue.”

Just like the Little White School Museum, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is going to give Nathan Hughes a prominent spot in their upcoming “Boys in Blue” Civil War exhibit. And we here in Oswego are always glad to help the big boys out when they need a little assistance…


Filed under Illinois History, Kendall County, Oswego, People in History