How the 'Tri-Cities' moniker came about

Updated 1/1/2011 2:10 PM
  • A streetcar makes its way down West Main Street in St. Charles in 1920.

    A streetcar makes its way down West Main Street in St. Charles in 1920. Photo Courtesy/St. Charles Historical Society

It's not likely that James K. Lewis, the first mayor of St. Charles in 1875, came right out and said, "You know, these three small towns along the Fox River should be called the Tri-Cities."

But at some point, well before Tri-Com, TriCity Family Services or Tri-Cities Soccer came about, someone somewhere had to christen St. Charles, Geneva and Batavia as the Tri-Cities.

"I have always heard that it originated during the First World War period," Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke said. "There was a streetcar line that ran up and down Route 31, from Aurora to Elgin, and the towns in between were called the Tri-Cities."

Schielke says he is "not a rail historian," but he is certain that the Northwestern railway had a train line that went through the area, and when it neared St. Charles, Geneva and Batavia, "it broke off into three directions called the Tri-Cities."

"I am pretty sure it came about as a transportation destination terminology and just kind of built from there," Schielke said. "In later years, it was a term that was just fueled by the local media in reference to this area."

Former St. Charles Mayor Fred Norris said the Tri-Cities designation has been around for as long as he can remember, but he thinks it became far more common among residents after World War II.

"That's when our boundaries became much closer because so many homes were being built, so the towns started to kind of run from one into another," Norris said. "You have to remember, before that there was plenty of open space between each town."

Norris laughed at the thought of when he bought a home near Gray Street in St. Charles in the late 1950s. "My father asked why I was getting something 'out in the boonies' because that was just nothing but open farmland all around where Geneva's football field now sits."

The Tri-Cities designation became more solid over time because the cities cooperated on important decisions like Tri-Com emergency services and became the first in the state to have 911 services, Norris said.

"Fred (Norris) deserves a lot of credit for creating that era of cooperation," Schielke said. "Prior to that, we were our own little, independent entities."

Schielke said the charm of the Tri-Cities is that each town continues to have its own downtown district and notable landmarks. But he views the modern Randall Road corridor as a phenomenon that solidifies the Tri-Cities concept.

"That's a unified business district from Main Street in Batavia to Main Street in St. Charles with some 6 million square feet of retail and offices," Schielke said. "Local people and those who come from far away to shop along Randall, for the most part don't know, or even care, what town that certain store is in."

Norris feels the entire Tri-Cities region has a unique aura about it.

"It's a friendly, competitive and cooperative environment between the cities," Norris said. "People recognize that, and it has helped us accomplish a lot of things."

Gut reactions

In making my first visit to Smashburger in Batavia last weekend, I have to give it a good gut reaction. My son and his buddies went for the Spicy Baja burger, but I stuck with a traditional cheeseburger called the American Classic and it was plenty tasty. The boys seemed to like the spicier burger as well.

I had heard good and lukewarm comments about this new restaurant, and someone had mentioned they thought the burgers were too greasy. I'd disagree with that assessment. A greasy burger wouldn't be a major turnoff for me anyway, but I know a greasy one when it lands in front of me. The Smashburger didn't fall into that category.

There was some slight confusion when the waitress brought the wrong order to our table, but that was corrected quickly -- and it was, after all, the day after Christmas.

I don't like spending a lot of money on hamburgers, and some fancier burger joints are starting to go that route. Smashburger is somewhere in between the fast-food places and the family restaurant chains, and as a change of pace it was quite good.

Dancing coming fast

Of all of the people involved in this fundraising event, it's the six dance couples who are probably most in shock that the annual Dancing with the Geneva Stars event is only a month away.

More importantly, you can log in and vote for your favorite couple at starting tomorrow. The $1 per vote goes toward the Geneva Cultural Arts Commission and Geneva Academic Foundation, so voters are encouraged to vote early and, of course, with lots of votes.

The event takes place Feb. 5 at Eagle Brook Country Club, and the website lists the contestants looking for your support.

History through art

If you haven't seen it yet, the new mural on the Geneva Masonic Lodge building at 10 S. Second St. should catch your eye soon.

The Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition installed the mural a few weeks ago, continuing quite a bit of amazing work in honoring the significance the highway had in American travel throughout the years.

The Geneva mural shows a policeman on his motorcycle, in what appears to be a vintage 1930s look, and a streetscape mix of a Geneva from yesteryear.

Worthy recognition

It was great to hear that my friend Duane Buttell of St. Charles, a Silver Star veteran of the Vietnam War, will be honored along with several other St. Charles veterans at Monday night's city council meeting.

The St. Charles City Council will be honoring veterans on a quarterly basis during the next year, which it has titled the "Year of the Veteran."

Congratulations and thanks should go out to all of these heroes.