Fifty years ago, a group of 22 men and women from the community met with the intention of preserving Batavia's history.
Some were local business people. Some were members of families who had their own rich history in our town. Others came out of a love of, not just the town, but a love of history in general.
The date of the first organizational meeting of the Batavia Historical Society took place on Jan. 17, 1960 in the basement of the Batavia Congregational Church. There were 45 founding members present at the first meeting. Robert Glidden, Raymond Patzer and Martha Wood were given the task of nominating officers, drawing up a constitution and establishing a museum.
"I had always been interested in history so I went down for the meeting," said founding member Betty Stephano. "I remember we had a small storefront on Batavia Avenue and we would display things there."
Stephano realized the importance of preserving history early on. One incident had a major impact on her.
"We purchased a home on North River Street and I found some letters from the Civil War. I took them to the previous owner because I thought they really belonged to her family," said Stephano. "I couldn't believe it when she took the letters and burned them right in front of me."
The first slate of officers for the Batavia Historical Society included: Eunice Shumway, president; Sallie Krueger, vice president; Miriam Johnson, secretary; Ray Patzer, treasurer and Malcolm Derby, Philip Carlson, Viola McDowell and Carl More as trustees. John Gustafson was appointed the historian.
"John Gustafson had spent a great deal of time prior to that meeting poring over magazines and newspapers and collecting much of Batavia's history," said Carla Hill, Batavia Depot Museum curator. "Many of those original members, like Eunice Shumway and the entire Gustafson family had been documenting our history long before the society was organized.
One of the initial projects of the society was the plaquing of homes and buildings dating 100 years or more.
The society has always been interested in collecting information that is important to Batavia's history. Whether it is a piece of clothing worn by an early settler or a photograph from a high school event, the Depot museum staff and their volunteers have documented and recorded everything for future generations. That even included an acquisition of 160 boxes of records from the Kane County courthouse in the 1990s.
One of the biggest moments in the society's history occurred on Oct. 12, 1973. That was the day that the C.B. and Q Depot left its home at Webster and Van Buren and traveled through town to its present location on Houston. The Depot acquisition was a tremendous community effort. A group of local business men and women raised the necessary $31,000 to pay for the move and volunteers painted and restored it. The city waived all fees and the old depot moved very slowly through town "Nine blocks, one hill and a bridge away" to its final destination.
A year later, the C.B. and Q caboose moved to the museum grounds. Since that time, the museum has increased its space with the addition of the Coffin Bank, the Gunzehauser/Smith gazebo and the addition of the Gustafson Research Center.
In 1998, the historical society's board took on the long-range plan of adding a research center to the existing depot. The society realized the need for a place where documents could be stored. They felt it was important for researchers to have a place where they could access important information bout Batavia and the families who have called this community home.
Through special funding and the support of the park district, the Gustafson Research Center became a reality.
"We were able to secure photos and materials from the research center for our time capsule project," said Doug Drexler of the Batavia Unit District 101 administrative staff. "With the material from our own archives and the donations from the community, we have been able to offer information through our website as well." It is www.bps101.net/community/history.
The school district is planning its own celebration for 2011 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the combining of the East and West Batavia schools.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary for the Batavia Historical Society, the members are planning a day this spring with special activities at the Depot Museum. There will also be a partnership with Batavia High School journalism students. The students will interview Batavia Historical Society members who have a history in town and the interviews will be transcribed into a bound 50th anniversary book.
The Batavia Historical Society meets four times a year, providing programming that is both interesting and informative. They also offer a quarterly newsletter that not only tells society news but also is filled with stories about many of the Batavia families and businesses that made out town what it is today.
"History is an important part of our lives," said Hill. "And it's also important to those who move here or are visiting our community."
• Membership in the Batavia Historical Society costs $10 a year. Life memberships are also available for $100. For information, log on to www.bataviahistoricalsociety.org/ or contact the society at P.O. Box 14, Batavia IL 60510-0014.