Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Furniture Makers and Undertakers in Holland’s 1886 Directory

It was common for craftsmen who built furniture to also provide coffins and the Holland’s Directory listed two men in Naperville: Charles Babst and Frederick Long. 

The mass production of furniture was just beginning, so stores might offer both ready-made and hand-crafted items as well as furniture repair or other fine woodworking. Coffins were a natural offshoot of the woodworking business and providing funeral services was an added source of income. 

I’ve written about Frederick Long before, but here’s a review:    

Long started his career in cabinet-making in 1857. By 1861, he was operating his own workshop and had added undertaking by 1870. In 1861, he married Amelia Beidelman and they had one son, Charles, who only lived until the age of thirty and left no children from his brief marriage. 

Amelia’s nephew, Oliver Beidelman, worked for Uncle Fred and eventually acquired the business. He and his son, “Dutch” replaced the old frame building on the corner of Washington Street and Jackson Avenue with an impressively large brick building. Adjoining the building to the north was a space where funerals were held and you can still see the arched windows of the chapel on the second and third floors. 

The Beidelman’s Furniture business continues to be run by the family and still occupies the corner building. The funeral business is now helmed by a different branch of the family with two Beidelman-Kunsch locations in Naperville. 

Babst’s shop was on the corner of Main and Jackson, which is now the parking lot for Dean’s Clothing. Holland’s says that Babst has been in business “a long time” and has “a fine hearse,” but doesn’t detail when the business started. As Babst was a younger man than Long, no doubt he had less experience. The Babst family is buried in Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery and the Longs are buried in the Naperville Cemetery, so apparently Charles Babst specialized in Catholic funerals. 

Long seems to have been a savvy businessman. He formed a partnership with James Nichols and John Kraushar to launch the Naperville Lounge factory in 1893. They hired a young clerk named Peter Kroehler who eventually also became a partner and then the sole owner in 1916. The Kroehler Furniture Company was a major employer in Naperville for many years. Technically, that company closed in the 1980s, but the name continues to be used with other manufacturers.

Babst also married, to Catherine Bauer of Alsace, France. They had eight children together. Two little girls, Mary and Cecilia, died of scarlet fever in 1887. Edward was a victim of the Spanish Flu and died in 1918 at Great Lakes Naval Base where he was serving during World War I. 

Two other sons also served in that war, August and Julius, and both returned home. Julius was around forty when he went overseas and it was not the first war for him as an army chaplain. The Naperville Clarion published many articles celebrating Father Babst. 

A third son, George, was married to Mayme Kennedy in Los Angeles with his brother, the chaplain, officiating. Mayme died in her forties of a cerebral thrombosis and there is no evidence she and George had children. 

Daughters Rose and Anna remained in Naperville with their parents. They seem to have been musical. Anna taught piano and both were involved in theatrical productions in town. During that time, Rose advertised for a position as an “experienced children’s nurse” so they kept busy, but neither one ever married. 

Mother Catherine passed away in 1903 and soon after Charles sold his “3-story stone building.” An advertisement in an 1908 issue of The Clarion tells that Babst offered his funeral ““paraphernalia and good will for sale. A good opening for a Catholic.” 

Where the family went from there has been difficult to trace. Tidbits in the Clarion tell of travels to Kankakee, Springfield, Colorado, and other places so it seems they liked to travel. 

The 1910 census has father Charles living in Naperville with Rose, Anna, Edward, and August. In 1924, the Clarion says that Capt. Chaplain Bapst was visiting his father and family, so they must still be living in town, but the 1930 census records Charles, Rose, and Anna in New London, Connecticut. In the 1940 census, Julius is living at the Fort Lewis Military Reservation in Pierce, Washington, with father Charles, now 89 years old, and his sisters Rose and Anna, both in their fifties. 

Charles Bapst passed away in 1941 and his son Julius followed in 1943. George was already living in California and his sisters soon moved to California as well. George died in 1951, but the sisters continued to live in Santa Clara until the 1980s. Anna died in 1984 at the age of 94 while Rose lived to be 100, passing away in 1988. All of the family is buried in Naperville in Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery, save George’s wife. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

William and George Knoch in Holland’s 1886 Directory

William and George Knoch were a couple of young go-getters who ran a cigar factory and tobacco shop in town. The Holland’s editor praises William and George, saying “the business having been established three years ago by the former, and has grown to very respectable proportions.” Since William was born in 1864, that would make him barely nineteen in 1883, with George a couple of years older. 

The Knoch family were long-time Naperville residents. Father Christopher was born in Prussia and mother Josephine was born in France, but they were married in DuPage County in 1860. The birth of son George soon followed with five more siblings after him. 

Christopher was a tailor and had a shop on Water Street, now an extension of Chicago Avenue, which is still there today. The small, unassuming building has been empty, on-and-off, for a number of years. Most recently,  Dark Horse Pastries, Sugar Monkey Cupcakes, and Ehrina Yarn have been tenants.

Unfortunately, Christopher died in 1874, just 41 years old. Details on how Josephine supported her young family are difficult to discover, but according to the 1880 census, both George and William were already working. In fact, sixteen-year-old Willliam was a “segar maker.” I haven’t seen a direct confirmation yet, but it’s logical to assume William was working for Charles Schulz who had a long-standing cigar business that is also listed in Holland’s.

When the Holland’s Directory was published, the brothers had been in business three years already, operating out of a building on Water Street, which from the 1886 Sanborn Map looks to be where their father, Christopher, had his tailoring business. Also in 1886, the Naperville Light Guard, the original incarnation of our Municipal Band, had a group photo taken. You can see William in his band uniform with a tuba. His future brother-in-law, Theodore, is also in the photo with a drum and drumsticks. 

George married Gertrude Weismantel in 1890 and they had five children. He continued in the cigar business until after 1900, but by the 1910 census, George was working the Lounge Factory in town. 

William married his fellow bandmember’s sister, Adolphine Boecker, in 1893 and they had seven children together, two of which became nuns. Son Winfred Knoch worked for the family business as a cigar-roller to pay for his education at DePaul University in Chicago. After receiving his law degree, Win served in various county capacities and by 1930, was a judge. He and his wife, Irene, donated the land which became Knoch Knolls Park. 

William continued in the cigar business, although in 1901 he moved to Charles Schultz’s former tobacco store on the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Main Street. That location is also still standing, currently housing Blue Mercury. Previous tenants include Starbucks and Naperville Liquors. 

When Naperville incorporated as a city in 1890, wards were established and William served as a alderman for the Third Ward from 1892 until 1896. He was also a supporter of Naperville’s 1917 Homecoming celebration and the Doughboy statue installation.  

The Jefferson Street location was more than just a tobacco shop. Cigars were rolled in the two-room factory in the back. In the front. men could buy a hand-rolled Havana cigar for a dollar and stay to enjoy it while playing cards with friends. The floor above held a meeting room were groups such as the Independent Order of Oddfellows and similar organizations could gather. 

William passed away in 1931 and Knoch’s Cigar Store and Factory passed with him. If you go to the Naper Settlement Museum, you can see the Punch statue that used to stand outside of his establishment during its heyday. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Tom Ley in Holland’s 1886 Directory

One ad in Holland’s Business Directory promotes “Tom Ley’s Chinese Laundry” and it is the only one advertised, although it’s possible there were other laundries operating in Naperville. Ads were run in The Naperville Clarion in 1885 for a laundry business run by Charles Ong Lung.  

Chinese laundries were common in the 1800s because of a series of discriminatory practices. During the 1840s, many hopeful men came from China to make their fortunes during the Gold Rush. As the boom fizzled out, however, large numbers of unemployed men of all races were left competing for too-few jobs. Growing conflicts led to anti-Chinese policies, including an 1875 law that prevented Chinese women from entering the country. In 1902, all Chinese residents were required to be registered and carry photo IDs.


Excluded from property ownership and the most desirable jobs, some Chinese men found employment building the railroad while others started washing clothes and linen. Native American and Mexican women had previously provided laundry services to miners and others, but these early entrepreneurs started seriously competing. Washing was considered “woman’s work.” Few men were willing to do it and those that did were not seen as “threatening.” Chinese laundries thrived in the west and started to move across the country. 


Tom Ley has been difficult to trace, especially since it’s highly doubtful that his name was really Tom. No people recorded in the 1880 census are listed as “Chinese” and a fire destroyed most of the 1890 census. A quick perusal of the cemeteries in the area didn’t turn up any Leys either. 


Ley’s “first-class laundry” seems to have operated for decades on Water Street before moving to Jefferson Avenue in 1907. Since the first location was down the street from the Pre-Emption House, those are probably glimpses of the shop in old photos. In 1916, the property under the laundry and a neighboring cobbler’s shop was purchased by the Naperville Masonic Temple Association. The temple building erected there is still in use today and houses the Naperville Running Company on the first floor. 


The Chinese laundry seems to have moved to 47 Jefferson Avenue, which is how it is recorded in the 1923 telephone directory. Tom Ley, however, is no longer listed as the proprietor. Instead, Sam Lung is the name printed. Or possibly Ley was no longer in business and this was a second laundry, the one mentioned in the 1885 Clarion ad promoting Charles Ong Lung, who may be a relation. Sam Lung is also mentioned in the 1917 Souvenir of Naperville Homecoming book which lists all of the local businesses that supported the Homecoming event. 

Other than these few references, history about these men has been hard to find. An article in a 1913 issue of The Naperville Clarion thanks “the Chinaman on Jefferson Avenue for his grand display of fireworks which is so freely given every year,” which probably refers to Charles Ong Lung or maybe Sam Lung, judging by the date. Sam Lung is also listed in the 1910 census. 


While there may not be records enough to trace, it’s important to do whatever is possible for a more complete understanding of our community’s past, however hard to face. Our history may not be particularly pretty at times, but you know what they say about being doomed to ugly repetition if we don’t learn the first time. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Willard Scott in Holland’s 1886 Directory

Naperville had two bankers listed in Holland’s 1886 Directory, both of which were also merchant tailors first. Last time, we looked at George Reuss. Across the street from Reuss’s shop was that of Willard Scott who had been around even longer. 

In the early 1800s, Stephen Scott decided to move his family from Maryland to stake out a claim in Illinois. He sailed through the Great Lakes, much like Joseph Naper would a few years later. Rather than in the fledgling settlement near Fort Dearborn, Stephen chose land near Grosse Point, now part of Evanston. 

A few years after settling there, Stephen learned that their homestead had been awarded to the family of Antoine Ouilmette following the Prairie du Chien treaty. During hunting trips, the Scotts had explored land around the DuPage River and decided to relocate there, a few miles out from the Naper Settlement area. This was in 1830, the summer before Joseph Naper arrived with his community. 

Stephen’s son, Willard, was already a young man when the family moved to Illinois. During a journey to Peoria, he stopped at the Hawley homestead. Smitten by the daughter of the house, he asked her to marry him. Caroline refused the one-day’s courtship proposal and he continued his journey. On the way back home, Willard stopped again at the Hawley’s and repeated his proposal. This time, Caroline said “yes” and they were married July 22, 1829.

After a time, the Scott family, including both Caroline and Willard’s parents, moved from their farms and into the Naperville town proper. Willard and Caroline started a family and had three sons who grew into adulthood. 

One of Willard’s early businesses was the Naperville Hotel, which he ran for a number of years. By the 1840s, Willard and his oldest son, Thaddeus, were operating a general store on Washington Street. The business thrived and as Willard’s good reputation grew, farmers who traveled into town for supplies started asking him to hold their money. Officially, Willard started his private bank in 1854, the same year George Reuss was immigrating from Bavaria to New York. 

The bank survived the Civil War, as did the Scott sons, and the merchant business grew, but within just a few years, Thaddeus died at a New York restaurant after choking on his food. Willard, Jr. then stepped into the store partnership and in the late 1860s, bought out the business from his father, leaving Willard, Sr. to focus on the bank. 

The store, which was about where Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea is today, was enlarged and remodeled in the 1870s. A separate building was attached to one side for the bank and a spacious second floor ball room was added. For many years, Scott’s Hall was the largest space available and it used for community meetings, celebrations, graduations, and similar gatherings. 

Around the same time, Willard Sr. was building his grand Italianate mansion on the corner of Washington Street and Franklin Avenue. It still exists today as the River Valley Law Firm and there are several interesting stories about it. Strangely, a photo in the Naperville Centennial book is labeled “Home of Willard Scott I, Corner of Washington Street and Franklin Avenue,” but that’s not the Italianate mansion in the picture. Perhaps the frame building in the photo was Willard, Jr.’s house on Jefferson? 

Another oddity is the front-page ad that ran for several weeks in The Naperville Clarion saying that Willard Scott & Co. was going out of business. These ads were published in January of 1886, the same year as the Holland’s Business Directory. Willard, Jr. seems to have sold the store in 1905, so it’s puzzling as to what the Clarion ads mean. 

Willard and Caroline lived good, long lives and their sons and daughters-in-law were quite active in town. Both Alvin and Willard, Jr. served as trustees in the village government for many terms and later, Alvin became treasurer and Willard, Jr. became mayor. Willard, Jr. was also the first fire marshall and his wife, Etta, was instrumental in launching the Naperville Women’s Club and they are all buried in the Naperville Cemetery except for patriarch Stephen Scott, the first to settle. Stephen’s burial place is unknown, however. Adventurous even into his seventies, Stephen started for California to pursue gold-mining and was not heard from again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

George Reuss in Holland’s Directory

While progress has replaced many of Naperville’s earliest structures, not only does George Reuss’s business building still stand but so does his home. And both are fine monuments to his maxim that "industry and economy lead to wealth." 

Trained as a tailor, Reuss left Bavaria in 1854, remaining for a time in New York until moving west to St. Charles, Illinois. Mathias and Gertrude Krapf, a family he knew from back home, also settled in St. Charles, bringing with them their daughter who was an old school friend of George’s. In 1856, Reuss married Anna Maria Krapf, moved to Naperville, and started a store with “a Mr. Dollinger.” This is possibly Franz “Frank” Dollinger as he also lived in St. Charles for a time and was a member of Euclid Lodge, the Masonic organization in Naperville. The partnership didn’t last long, however, and they split up the stock to go their separate ways. 

Now in his twenties, Reuss operated a clothier’s shop which sold men’s furnishings and utilized his tailor training. His obituary states that while Reuss was “a stern man, he was eminently just and demanded much more of himself than he did of anyone else” and his business seems to have flourished. In the 1860s, Reuss hired local contractor, Levi Shafer, to erect a fine clothing shop on the corner of Washington and Jefferson. In addition to being a successful builder, Shafer is known for loaning his gun to Marcellus Jones who is said to have fired the first shot of the Battle of Gettysburg with it.  

Reuss’s good reputation and sturdy building impressed the farmers and townsfolk who were his customers and they started asking him to hold their money. So the clothier became a banker, launching the Bank of Naperville in 1886. Isaac Murray, brother to the Ruth that I wrote about in my first book, was vice president of the bank. 

George installed a vault and added another room and rebuilt the entrance with elegant red granite to better reflect the change from tailor to bank. These additions cost him $13,000, equivalent to $397,117 in today’s dollars, and the fancy entrance now opens into ZazĂș Salon.

Over the years, Reuss also served a few terms as town trustee and in 1880, he was president. But there were difficult times for the Reuss family as well. Of the nine children born to Anna Marie, five died in infancy and one before her fifth birthday. The three remaining children prospered, however, providing thirteen grandchildren between them. As an adult, son Joseph joined George in the banking business, as did son-in-law, Valentine Dieter. 

The younger men’s responsibilities, naturally, increased over time, particularly when George was felled by a series of strokes. After two years of being home-bound, George passed away in 1901.  His wife continued to live in Naperville until her death in 1907 and both are buried in Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery. 

During the late 1870s, George and Anna Marie had a beautiful home built in Naperville for their family to enjoy. It was designed to resemble the villas found in northern Italy, which was a popular trend during that era. The home of Willard Scott, who also ran a store and bank on Washington Street, is another fine example of Italianate architecture. 

The grand house was eventually split up into a six-flat, but it received a big make-over in the 1990s, returning it to its former glory as a single-family home. In 2013, North Central College purchased the beautiful building to house then-incoming President Troy Hammond and it remains the college president's home today.