Huntley resident writes the book on local history

Did you know that Huntley once had its own brass band? That Suffragettes marched up Main Street, and a dry goods store once sat on the east end of the square?

Neither did I, until I received a preview copy of Nancy Bacheller's new book, "Images of America: Huntley," published Arcadia Publishing.

Set to be released today, this slim, paper-bound volume is packed with hundreds of rare and wonderful photos, facts, and fond memories of turn-of-the-last-century life in a small Illinois farming community.

Bacheller, a former newspaper columnist, says she never planned to write a book until a year ago, when she was contacted by an Arcadia editor from nearby Crystal Lake.

"He knew I was a writer with interest in local history," she said. "Since I no longer wrote for the (paper), he asked me to write a book about Huntley."

And the rest, as they say, is history.

For several years, Bacheller and fellow history buff Mary Beth Manning have been working to build a local history collection at the Huntley Area Public Library.

Each Monday morning, the two volunteers meet at the library to collect and catalog donated books, photos, old newspapers, and other mementos of the town's early history. Over the years, their project has grown from one bookshelf to several, spilling over into cabinets and closets.

Manning, a lifelong Huntley resident and daughter of one of the town's early families, is the perfect research partner, "She knows all about the people, the businesses, everything from years ago," Bacheller said. "There's so much that people would like to see, but we don't have the room to show or display."

Bacheller soon became known as one of the town's official historians, then came the offer to publish a book using her research. The project would require at least 200 photos, Bacheller was told, so last spring she put out a call for help in locating mementos from Huntley's past.

The response was tremendous, she says, with hundreds of photos, fliers, and family stories sent by some of the town's oldest families.

"Some of these photographs haven't been seen in Huntley for nearly 100 years," Bacheller said, including those of the old general store run by Otto Schmalz whose grandson, Robert, provided dozens of pictures taken around 1915.

On the book's cover, Otto Schmalz and his wife, Hattie, pose with relatives alongside a haystack on her sister's farm, located between Huntley and Marengo.

"They lived in town on the corner of Church and Second streets, not far from their store," Bacheller said. "(Robert) told me they were visiting and his grandfather was 'playing farmer for the day.'"

Bacheller believes the photos were taken by Robert 's father, Carl Schmalz, in 1915 shortly after he graduated from Huntley High School.

"I'm guessing he got this camera for graduation, and that's why he took so many pictures," Bacheller said.

One photo shows young Carl Schmalz standing atop the Huntley water tower, with a panoramic view of the town school and Congregational Church below.

"Soon after that, (Carl) went away to college and never came back to live in Huntley," Bacheller said. "He probably took his pictures with him."

After graduating from Harvard University, Carl Schmalz became a professor there, then chairman and CEO of R. H. Stearns department store in Boston.

She learned about the Schmalz family almost by accident.

"I ran into (former Huntley village trustee) Sue Paulsen at the grocery store, and she told me her sister was friends with a woman whose grandfather had a store in Huntley, a long time ago."

That contact led Bacheller to Carl's son, Robert Schmaltz, who is now nearly 80 years old and lives in Pennsylvania.

"The odds of that were so remote," she says. "But it turned into all these great pictures that nobody here in Huntley has ever seen. It was a gold mine."

Researching her book, Bacheller learned that Oscar Schmalz's wife, Hattie, was an independent woman. Among the vintage mementos is a 1908 eighth grade graduation program listing Mrs. Schmalz to speak on the topic of "Why Women Should Have the Right to Vote."

Another valuable source was the large photo collection of Tom and Barb Conley, members of the newly formed Huntley Historical Society who have restored and now live in former home of town founder Thomas Stillwell Huntley.

Early scenes of Huntley's town square, gracious Victorian homes, and fresh-faced students at the little town school appear throughout the book, alongside contributions from some of the town's oldest families.

Lesser-known Huntley notables featured in the book include world-famous gladiolus grower Theodore Ferris (1849-1939), novelist and playwright Oliver Hadley Statler (1915-2002), and Margaret Donahue (1893-1978), a secretary for the early Chicago Cubs who became the first female official of a major-league ball club.

The oldest photo in the book shows men with horse-drawn sledges on snowbound Main Street, taken in the mid-1870s. "The building on the right was torn down in 1878," Bacheller says. "John Hawley built a new store on the site, where Luigi's Pizza is today."

Bacheller admits she's not used to the attention that her book has drawn.

"Actually, it's kind of overwhelming. I guess this is just my 15 minutes of fame," she says. "I was always the one doing the writing and interviewing, and now it's kind of odd to be interviewed.

"I found many photos that I did not have room to use in the book," Bacheller says. And she gained a special souvenir, a quilt made in 1915 by children at Huntley's First Congregational Church. She hopes to display those mementos at a special exhibit in May, when the Huntley Historical Society celebrates Local History Month.

Unlike many of her contributors, Bacheller is not a Huntley native. "I didn't grow up here, but both of my sons grew up here and Huntley is their home. This book is really for them."

To learn more about "Images of America: Huntley" and its author, Nancy Bacheller, visit

<p class="factboxheadblack">Meet the author</p> <p class="News">Want to meet Huntley author Nancy Bacheller or hear her discuss Huntley history? </p> <p class="News"><b>Book signings:</b> Nancy Bacheller will greet the public and sign her book from 6:30 - 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 10, at the Huntley Area Public Library, 11000 Ruth Road in Huntley and from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, March 21 at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Geneva Commons on Randall Road in Geneva.</p> <p class="News"><b>Lecture and discussion:</b> Bacheller will discuss her book and speak about women in Huntley history at the Women's History Month dinner meeting of the American Association of University Women, Huntley Area Branch, 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 13 at Niko's Grill in Huntley. </p> <p class="News">The program is open to the public; free for AAUW members or $5 for non-members. Attendees order and pay for their own food and drink. For details call (847) 669-0848 or e-mail to: <a href=""></a></p>

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