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updated: 6/15/2011 5:21 PM

Happy 120th birthday to Batavia

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By Sammi King

Daily Herald columnist

Every year, all third graders in Batavia's public schools participate in the Third Grade Report, a curriculum that centers on local history.

Since we live in the home that was owned by Alice Gustafson's family from 1928 to 1985, we invite the third graders from Alice Gustafson school to visit during the third grade report to learn about our home's history and the people who have lived here. Gustafson was an educator who taught in the school system for 37 years.

We don't only share information about the Gustafson family; we also tell the third graders about the John Van Nortwick family, who built the house in 1849. Both families were very involved in Batavia's history.

I really believe in the importance of the third grade report. Not many communities are as committed to teaching local history as much as Batavia is. I think it is a feather in our city's cap to have the next generation learn about the generations past.

Sometimes, I am challenged by the questions that these bright youngsters have and sometimes I am amused.

"Could I go into your house and see what it's like?" asked one little girl. "My mom wants to know what it looks like inside."

Years ago the kids were able to go inside and we often would field questions like "Why did Alice have to sleep in the bathroom?" (answer: it wasn't a bathroom at the time) and, "If that's a coffin corner, where are the ghosts?"

This year one little guy asked me if Christopher Payne (Batavia's first settler) ever lived in our house. When I told him that he hadn't, this freckled kid quickly responded, "Well, where in the world did he live?"

Sadly, Christopher Payne's 14-by-16-foot cabin was torn down. All that remains is a boulder marking the spot on East Wilson Street.

In the publication "Historic Batavia" written in 1962, John Gustafson, (1890-1984) described Christopher Payne, the first to settle in Kane County, as a man who was an adventurer.

That piqued the interest of our present historian, Dr. Bob Barnes. Barnes wrote the book, literally, about Christopher Payne.

"I was interested in him because he was the earliest settler," said Barnes. "I began reading about him and doing the research. Then I hit the wall, so to speak, until someone told me that (the late) Ray Patzer had been researching Christopher Payne as well. When I contacted Dorothy (Patzer) she gave me all his files."

The Patzer files led to another researcher in Minnesota and after years of his own research, Barnes began writing his book, "Christopher Payne, American Pioneer" which is available at the Batavia Depot Museum gift shop for $5.

"My book probably contains about a tenth of what I know about Christopher Payne," Barnes said.

After settling in Batavia, Payne went north to become the first settler in Lake Geneva, Wis.

Barnes was a guest at Alice Gustafson School recently at the invitation of third grader Molly Schuster, who chose to do her report on Christopher Payne.

"The students had done some pretty extensive research," said Barnes. "They asked some hard questions."

When the third grade came to our home, it was my turn to ask the tough questions.

"What happened on June 9, 120 years ago?" I asked.

Hands flew faster than a Challenge Windmill in a wind storm. After many wrong answers, one smart boy asked, "Is that when Batavia became a city?"

He was correct!

Batavia became a municipality in 1856 and held village status until June 9, 1891 when it officially became a city.