Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Notable Women -- The Librarians



Naperville boasts three state-of-the-art libraries today. The very first one opened in 1898 thanks to a bequest from James Lawrence Nichols, fundraising by the Women’s Club and donations from other community members.

The first — and many, many subsequent — librarians were local women with a passion for sharing knowledge.

Edna Goss got the library started, cataloguing the books according to the still-newish Dewey Decimal System. But Edna was a only temporary librarian, assisted by Hannah Ditzler who soon took over.

Hannah left the post when she married John Alspaugh in 1905 and Jennie Niederhauser assumed the duties. Jennie’s husband, who had been teaching at North Central College, took a position at Penn State in 1907 so she also resigned to follow him to Pennsylvania.

Jennie was succeeded by Rose Barnard who enjoyed the job as well as the salary of $35 a month. Unfortunately, Rose’s sister got married and she was needed to manage the household of her aging parents. Her father offered to match the library salary, so Rose left the job in 1909.

During her tenure, however, she had been ably assisted by Mary Barbara Egermann who was trained to take over.

Mary, known as Matie, was the daughter of two local brewing families: Her mother was Barbara Stenger of Stenger Brewery and her father Joseph kept a saloon on Jefferson Avenue where Naper Nuts and Sweets currently operates.

Being Naperville’s librarian was Matie’s life’s work and she served the community until 1950. In addition to managing the books, Matie started a little museum in the building that included local history and dolls from around the world. Many of the dolls were brought back by young military friends returning from overseas. You can see a depiction of a uniformed man offering a doll to Matie on the Chicago Street mural near Sullivan’s.

After Matie’s 41 years of service, Miriam Fry and Katherine Finkbeiner took the helm. They also logged an impressive number of years at Nichols, serving until the 1980s.

Today, we are lucky to have teams of dedicated librarians that serve in all three locations. If you haven’t checked into the business resources at the library, give them a call and learn about the cool stuff they offer to help run your business.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Notable Naperville Women - The Martins

Naperville will forever be grateful to Caroline Martin Mitchell. When she died in 1936, she gave 212 acres of downtown property to the city, including her family home, Pine Craig.


Now referred to as the Martin Mitchell Mansion in her honor, the house is the centerpiece of the Naper Settlement. In addition, Central High School, Sportsman’s Park, Von Oven Scout Reservation, and Edward Hospital are also all situated on Martin family property.

Caroline’s father, George Martin, came to Naperville as a child in 1833, just a couple years after the Napers arrived. Their original property was basically Rotary Hill. When you’re walking around there this summer, look for the sign that marks the house where George and his wife Sibelia raised their family of one son and three daughters.

George’s business enterprises were a brick and tile manufacturing company which really took off during the rebuilding of Chicago following the Great Fire. He built Pine Craig across the street and moved his now-grown family into it.

Unfortunately, George died just a few years later. But his business enterprises did not. Son George was practicing law in Maywood and Miami and fighting ill health, so the bulk of the work was carried on by his widow Sibelia and his daughters Lizzie, Kittie and Carrie.

In 1908, Lizzie’s obituary in The Naperville Clarion read:

Miss Martin was a woman of unusual business ability. She kept the books of the firm of Martin & von Oven for thirty-six years, sixteen years of which she was one of the firm's managing partners. She was highly respected by her business associates, and to her tact in dealing with employees, and general business integrity and enterprise, the success of the firm is, in a measure, due.

Contrary to to norms of time, Kitty, who was born a dwarf, worked and socialized alongside her sisters. Her obituary reads:

The deceased was well known and highly respected among her associates friends.

Caroline was the only child to marry, but she moved her husband into Pine Craig rather than move away from the family and the family business.

She never had children of her own and was the last of her family to pass. Caroline’s pride in her family and in her city prompted her generous legacy, making a huge and lasting impact on the vibrancy of Naperville’s downtown.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Notable Naperville Women - The Fredenhagens

Fredenhagen and her daughters Rita and Jeanne shared a deep love for Naperville. So with a nod to both Valentines’ Day and the recent movie “The Founder,” here’s a bit of their story:

Grace’s husband, Walter, owned an ice cream plant in Rushville, Illinois called Frozen Gold. School friend Earl Prince served Frozen Gold at his Downers Grove parlor, Prince Castle.

At the onset of the Depression, Walter sold the Frozen Gold plant and with Earl, opened more Prince Castle shops. The Naperville one opened in 1931 with a dairy behind it to make fresh ice cream.

Prince’s signature offering was the One-in-a-Million malt. For only ten cents, you could get a shake with four scoops of ice cream. It was so thick, that that the motors of the Hamilton-Beach blenders kept burning out.

So Hal and Walter developed the multi-mixer with a three-horsepower motor to mix four malts at one time. In addition to using multi-mixers in Prince Castle stores, they also sold them to other restaurants.

One of their salesmen was a guy from Oak Park named Ray Kroc who traveled the country. He sold a couple of mixers to brothers Dick and Mac McDonald, owners of a burger place in San Bernardino, California. Hamilton-Beach came out with their own multi-mixer which decimated Prince’s sales, so Kroc started another business. For more on that story, watch the new Michael Keaton movie!

Prince Castle continued to thrive throughout the 1940’s, but by 1955, Hal and Walter parted ways. The Fredenhagens continued in the ice cream business joined by family members like son Ted and daughter Rita here in Naperville and daughter Jeanne who shipped strawberries for shakes from her farm in Seattle. The shop’s new name became Cock Robin.

Cock Robin is a huge part of Naperville’s collective memory, from the square scoops to the One-in-a-Million Malts to the English toffee during holidays.

Both Grace a Rita have passed on now. In addition to supporting Cock Robin, Grace Fredenhagen served as president of the Naperville Woman’s Club and director of the Chorus.

Rita was also active, serving with the Rotary, on the Fire and Police Board of Commissioners and on the Edward Hospital Institutional Review Board.

The Cock Robin on Washington Street closed in 2000. Today, it is Fredenhagen Park. The park was dedicated in 2004 by Rita and Ted in honor of their parents Grace and Walter.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Notable Naperville Women - Hannah Ditzler




History books record plenty of men’s names because of the traditions of our society, but of course there have been many women who made distinctive contributions to our city. This year we’ll take a look at a few of Naperville’s notable women.

Hannah Ditzler lived from 1848-1938, spending most of that time in Naperville. She was born in town, but her parents arrived here in 1844 from family homes in Pennsylvania. (“Pennsylvania Dutch” is really “Pennsylvania Deutsch,” which is German for “German.”)

In addition to being a typical daughter and housewife of the time, Hannah also served as a teacher at the Naper Academy and as a librarian at Nichols Library, but her main contribution to Naperville is her extensive diary.

Throughout the years, Hannah took notes on the goings-on in her community. She talked about the weddings and the funerals she attended. She wrote down juicy little gossip tidbits and personal family stories. She also included newspaper clippings, sketches and fabric swatches from clothes she made.

It was Hannah who encouraged her sister Libbie to record her arduous wagon train journey to California as a new bride in 1854.

During the Civil War, Hannah kept track of the sons of local families who were serving. She copied into her diary letters sent home by her own “soldier boy.” As it turned out, Hannah was unlucky in love. The “soldier boy” married another and Hannah herself didn’t marry until 1903 when she was 55 years old. The man she married, John Alspaugh, was a widower with children and also her first cousin, which wasn’t legal in Illinois, so they married out of state.

Hannah’s scrapbooks and diaries are part of the Naper Settlement collection and serve as an indispensable touchpoint for our history during the the nineteenth century.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Random Last Round-Up of 1966

Before we bid farewell to our look at 1966, here are a few random things that happened that year. It was a weird and wonderful time!

The National Historic Preservation Act became law when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed off on it in October of 1966. While there were some similar actions taken before this — for instance, Teddy Roosevelt’s commitment to preserving our nation’s natural resources and archeological sites — this law encompassed a wide-range of things to be preserved. It established institutions like the National Register of Historic Places, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the State Historic Preservation Office.


Earlier in the year, Jacqueline Susann released her blockbuster book “Valley of the Dolls.” The movie appeared already by the following year because “Dolls” was such a huge hit. While not very PC by today’s standards, it dished on sensational subjects like fame, drugs and sex that were a revelation to mid-sixties America and still relevant today.

This year Brookfield Zoo celebrated their 50th year of offering Mold-A-Rama figures. If you’re from Chicago, you probably made one in your youth and know that hot, waxy smell. “Miniature plastic factories” really took off at the New York City World’s Fair a few years before, but Chicago has the closest relationship. There are only a few places left that feature these antique machines. Brookfield offered special edition figures throughout the anniversary year, including the 1966 Walrus.

Peppermint Patty also made her debut during the summer of 1966. She was the first female Peanuts character to not wear a dress — a nod to the growing women’s movement. Patty was unconventional in many ways, including having a particular close relationship with her single-parent dad.

2016 comes to a close soon and no one knows what 2017 has in store, let alone what 2066 will be like. It’s amazing the things that seem odd and the things that remain familiar over a fifty year period. Can’t wait to see what unfolds!