Monthly Archives: November 2012

Voting, Australian style…

It might seem odd, but until 1891, there was no such thing as a secret ballot in Illinois elections. Instead, voters went to the polls and cast their ballots verbally for their selected candidates.

But in the 1890s, the progressive movement was growing fast. Farmers were organizing cooperative associations that were vying with the established political parties, unions were organizing, and a variety of social movements were afoot. The secret ballot, as developed in Australia, was seen as a vital part of reforming the political process by allowing voters to keep their choices from the prying eyes of political and business bosses.

Newspapers began instructing their readers in the new process a couple months before the election.

Here in Kendall County, the Kendall County Record gave voters a detailed set of instructions on Oct. 7, 1891 on how to go about casting their ballots the new way. The Record’s Oswego correspondent explained on Oct. 21:

The Australian system, adopted by Illinois and several other states, prevents the buyer of votes to see the delivery of them, hence that kind of practice will be much reduced where the system is in vogue, and recourse will be had to something else; colonization probably will get a stimulus.

When it came to actually casting their ballots that year, there was more than a little curiousity among voters, not to mention quite a bit of enthusiasm. Record correspondent Lorenzo Rank wrote on Nov. 11 that some of the participants were more enthusiastic than others:

In a partisan sense, the working of the Australian system here commenced abominably when for the first time in 35 years or more when the Democrats came out ahead in an election. John Pitt had the honor of casting the first vote under the new system; he is a very enthusiastic, quick and nimble man; when starting for the booths, someone said, “Do you know how to fix the ticket, John?” “Yis,” said he; on entering, instead of lifting up the curtain or drawing it to one side, he dove right down under it, coming up on the inside under the shelf with which his head came in collision, making the sheet-iron concern tremble and tingle from stem to stern, but no damage resulted to either it or John’s head. There was but one man that balked when told that he must go into a booth to prepare his ballot and who declared that “if it has become to such a point where an American citizen cannot mark his ticket wherever he pleased, he proposed not to vote at all;” upon second thought, however, he concluded to go through the imported form.

While the system was met with general favor, it will be apt to be too cumbersome when it comes to a general election with a full ticket.

Of course, it did not exactly “prove too cumbersome” when it came to general elections, although it did prove pretty cumbersome. I remember one of the last paper ballots before electronic counting machines came in was so large it barely fit in the voting booth.

Nowadays, we take our secret ballots very seriously. Back in the day, though, they were looked upon with more than a little suspicion.


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Filed under Kendall County, Oswego, People in History

The Bristol Post Office waltz

Updated so it makes more sense…

My friend Tony Scott reports in this week’s Kendall County Record that the unincorporated village of Bristol’s post office will not be closed as part of the Republican Party’s war on the postal service. Instead, it’s hours will be cut, but residents will still enjoy postal service.

The little post office has a somewhat complicated history, due to how the area was settled and also due to the area’s transportation history.

The original village of Bristol was what is today the north side of the city of Yorkville. The town got its name from Lyman Bristol, an early settler. An apparently footloose guy like lots of other early settlers, Bristol eventually headed farther west during the Gold Rush. He was killed in a wagon accident in California June 13, 1864.

Anyway, back to our story. Bristol was situated on the north bank of the Fox River, and the village of Yorkville grew up, more slowly, on the south bank. The old Village of Bristol Post Office was established July 1, 1839, and was one of the county’s earliest post offices. The community got the post office because it was on the Fox River Trail, the mail stage route running north from Ottawa up the Fox River through Bristol to Oswego and Aurora all the way to Geneva. Yorkville residents had to cross the Fox River on a footbridge to get their mail until the first bridge was built.

In the early 1850s, rail lines were pushed west of Chicago to Aurora, across the Fox River, and west through northern Kendall County. The railroad bypassed both Oswego and Bristol, running roughly two miles west of Oswego and two and a half miles west of Bristol, but the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad established stations along the rail line for both communities, and named after them: Oswego Station and Bristol Station. Regular horsedrawn stage service connected the two villages with the rail line.

A village did not grow up around Oswego Station, but one did grow up around Bristol Station. And on Dec. 22, 1854 Bristol Station got its own post office, shortly after the station was established on the new railroad line.

During the next several years, the question of the location of the county seat of Kendall County was debated and in 1859, county voters decided to remove it from Oswego back to Yorkville. The county seat had originally been located in the hamlet of Yorkville when the county was established in February 1841. But in 1845, voters decided to move it to Oswego, then as now, the county’s most populous township. Oswego, located in the county’s northeast corner, was a far piece to travel in the days of horse and wagon and many county residents grew tired of the long trips they had to take to do their official county business.

Largely because of the disruption caused by the Civil War, the new courthouse in Yorkville was not completed until 1864. In June 1864, the records were finally moved from Oswego. Because postal regulations required that every county seat have a post office, Yorkville was granted its post office on April 18, 1864, just two months before county records arrived.

So the neighboring villages of Yorkville and Bristol, separated only by the Fox River, found themselves each with a post office.

Another complication arose in 1870 with the completion of the Ottawa, Oswego, and Fox River Valley Rail Road, linking Ottawa and Aurora via Yorkville, Oswego, and Montgomery. With regular rail service running right through town, Yorkville became a distributing post office, sending mail to Bristol. Previously, Bristol had been the distributing office.

The Post Office Department put up with this situation until December 1881, when they decided to close the Bristol office. In 1882, they announced plans to merge the old Bristol and Bristol Station post offices. In June of that year, the old Bristol Post Office was finally closed and from then on, residents of Bristol had to cross the river and get their mail at the Yorkville Post Office.

There was still room for confusion, however, given that the villages of Bristol and Bristol Station were completely two different towns, separated by more than two miles. As a result, the post office department decreed that the post office at Bristol Station would be officially renamed Bristol, with no “Station” attached to it. Meanwhile, though, while the post office was named Bristol, the village retained it’s name of Bristol Station to differentiate it from the still thriving old Village of Bristol.

In 1957, residents of the villages of Yorkville and Bristol finally voted to merge, naming the new municipality the United City of Yorkville and Bristol. The old, original village of Bristol thus disappeared. And it wasn’t long before the “Station” was removed from Bristol Station’s name, resulting in the post office and village finally getting the same name for the first time since 1882.

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

So now even FOOD goes out of fashion?

We like pot roast around the Matile Manse; always have. Pot roasts are not the fanciest cuts of meat, but oven roasted (NOT cooked in a crock pot) with carrots, onions, and potatoes, they are good, traditional American fare.

And as those of you who love their pot roast know, there are two kinds, blade cut and round bone. At least there used to be.

We’ve always been a round bone family. My dad taught me the difference in quality between round bone and blade cut roasts when I was but a youngster. Blade cut roasts are dryer and stringier; round bone roasts are much more moist and tender.



But we’ve been noticing over the past several years that round bone roasts seem to have disappeared. Instead, we’ve been seeing what used to be round bone roasts with the round bone removed. Finally, today when my wife was shopping at the local superstore, she asked the butcher on duty whether he had any round bone pot roasts. No, he replied, those are old fashioned. They now cut the bone out, which is then sold in three-packs separately.

Of course, deboning a round bone roast pretty much defeats the whole idea of getting a more tender roast by cooking it with the bone in. I asked my wife if maybe we could buy one of those round bone three packs and sort of reassemble one of those old-fashioned round bone roasts. She looked at me like I was nuts. They leave the bones in blade cut roasts, of course, because it would be too difficult to cut it out. So the goal seems to be to make sure both cuts are dry and stringy.

Ah, for the good old days when my grandparents and aunts and uncles would come over on a late fall day and we’d butcher a couple steers my dad had been fattening on corn, along with a couple hogs, cut the meat, divvy it up amongst all those who helped and fill the old International Harvester deepfreeze in the basement. On the other hand, doing that these days might exercise the neighbors, not to mention the health department…

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Filed under Farming, Food, Frustration, Nostalgia, Semi-Current Events

I’m sort of back, and so here’s a post…

I seem to be recovering from heart valve surgery, although the road seems long and winding, as the poet said. My mind is not as foggy as it has been for the past several weeks, and so thought I’d, what the heck, try a post.

On Dec. 19, 1900, the Kendall County Record proudly announced from Yorkville that:

 The first car on the electric railway uniting Aurora, Oswego and Yorkville arrived in Yorkville on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 1900. It was only a car for the working force, but its arrival was a matter of interest to a great number of our people. Put this item in your scrap book. It is expected and is so announced by manager Henry Evans that the road will be open for regular business on Monday next, Dec. 24. There is a good deal of uneasiness among Yorkville business men and their friends as to the influence of the road on trade here. One chief advantage of the road in view of many is that we can go to Aurora or Chicago to evening or afternoon entertainments and not be dependent on our one railroad, which runs only the one evening train. There is no cause for uneasiness.

The arrival of the interurban was a very big deal, indeed. In those days, most all roads, plus most streets in smaller towns like Yorkville and Oswego were dirt. During summer rains, and winter and spring thaws, those dirt tracks turned into little more than muddy tracks into which the vehicles of the day could sink. So, the all-weather tracks of the interurban were enthusiastically welcomed since only the deepest snow or the hardest, flooding rains could stay the sturdy trolleys from their appointed rounds.

In fact, the trolleys served towns up and down our Illinois Fox River Valley from 1900 until most of the private interurban companies went out of business in the mid-1920s, driven into bankruptcy by the uneven competition with motor vehicles. While trolley companies had to maintain their own roadbeds, roads on which the growing number of autos, buses, and trucks drove were government built and maintained. As motor vehicles became more popular, fewer rode the trolleys and in a sort of death spiral, service and maintenance declined, driving ever more customers away.

So it was ironic that another short story in the same week’s Record mentioned that not only had the first car arrived in Yorkville on the electric road, but that the seed of its destruction—a motor car—had come to town the same day:

On Dec. 19, 1900, Kendall County Record Publisher John R. Marshall proudly noted he had his first automobile ride in a Chicago Motor Vehicle Company car. Although this is a 1903 model, the 1900 version was probably much the same. The newfangled auto and the first trolley on the interurban line both arrived in Yorkville the same day.

Tuesday afternoon a big three-seated vehicle stopped in front of The Record office and soon had a crowd around it. It was a fine looking thing on wheels, but the peculiarity was, there were no horses. It was an automobile carriage of 12 horse power gasoline engine manufactured by the Chicago Motor Vehicle Company at Harvey, south of Chicago. This vehicle had come out from Chicago by way of Plano and had been to Sheridan, and Tuesday morning it left Sheridan for the return by way of Yorkville, Oswego, Plainfield and Joliet. The party came here from Sheridan in an hour and a quarter–and we know the roads that way are not smooth as a floor. The motorman by the touch of a lever started the machine and took us across the bridges and east along Main street on the north side and back, and did it as easily as one would drive a family horse and for speed…well, George Pedersen just had to hold onto his hat and the writer was uneasy for fear the machine would bolt the track and go into the ditch. But the driver had perfect control, even while running at the rate of 20 miles an hour, and brought us back safely. The power is from gasoline vapor, without the use of any water, and it is very economical. The price of such a machine as was here is $1,600; it will carry a dozen people easily.

The innovations, they come and they go…

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Filed under Fox River, Illinois History, Kendall County, Montgomery, Oswego