Wednesday, January 20, 2021

1874 DuPage Atlas – J.J. Hunt

Throughout this year, we’ll take a look at some of the homes and businesses featured in the 1874 Atlas Map of DuPage County. First up is the hardware emporium of James. J. Hunt which was located on the northwest corner of Washington and Van Buren, where the restaurant Catch 35 is now.  

Hunt was born in Pennsylvania and learned there to be a blacksmith. He came to Naperville with his young family in 1844 and started by working in another man’s plow shop. Within a couple of years, however, Hunt opened his own blacksmith shop and also ran a livery business.


Hunt spent part of the Civil War serving as a captain and then a major in Illinois and in Pennsylvania, but at the same time, he also launched a small scale hardware business, presumably operated by his wife and pre-teen sons who remained in Naperville. After the war, all his efforts went into that business, making Hunt & Son Hardware a downtown staple until his retirement in 1893. 

During his years in Naperville, Hunt served the community as sheriff, fire marshal, justice of the peace, and treasurer. Hunt was also dedicated to Euclid Lodge, the local Masonic organization, holding meetings above his shop and serving as Master of the Lodge eight times. 


A story was recorded about how Hunt was able to cool down a clash between some Naperville residents and their more recently-arrived German neighbors during his tenure as a police magistrate. Apparently, while the town was celebrating Independence Day, a dispute arose which “had been bottled up and escaped from such confinements down the throats and thence into the brains of a few otherwise ‘real good fellows.’” 


Hunt held positions as a village trustee and village president during the 1860s and 1870s. Then in late 1889, Naperville’s citizens began the process of incorporating from a Village to a City. The vote passed in March of 1890 and Hunt was elected the first mayor of the City of Naperville in April. 


When he moved from Pennsylvania, Hunt brought his wife, Nancy, with whom he had ten children, six boys and four girls. Their first two sons died very young and Nancy herself suffered from ill health in mid-life. She traveled out to Colorado to convalesce, but died there at age 48. Hunt remarried a couple of years later to a woman twenty years his junior. Andelusia became mother to the youngest Hunt children, but, sadly, buried three infants of her own. 


None of the girls married and Eva, the youngest, eventually moved to Oregon to live near her brother James Everett Hunt. Obviously public service was a family trait because James E. was a senator there. He died in 1933 at age 80 after being hit by a taxi. 


James Hunt, the father, died in 1905 at age 83 and was buried in the Naperville Cemetery with full Masonic honors. The Clarion newspaper headline that day was “Passing of a Naperville Pioneer.” 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Naperville 1920 Flashback: Special Christmas Presents

While the 1920s started cautiously, with the country still recovering from the war and the Spanish flu, the decade would go on to enjoy unprecedented prosperity and technological wonders before onset of the Great Depression.

Christmas gifts increasingly included big-ticket items for the home. Kitchens had been evolving with the addition of plumbing and electricity. For years, the kitchen area was mainly a table and some open shelves because wet and messy prep work was done in the scullery or outside while food was stored in a cool larder or cellar. A popular gift in the 1920s was a free-standing cabinet that stored the most often used food prep items and was equipped with flour and sugar dispensers.

Beidelman’s furniture store offered these for sale in The Clarion, one of Naperville’s earliest newspapers. Frederick Long opened the store in 1861 who sold it to his nephew Oliver Beidelman. Family continues to run the shop on Washington Street to this day.

Another in-town furniture store, Friedrich’s, advertised Victrola phonographs for the family, which is also a pricey gift at $99. This shop was on Jefferson in the building where Floyd’s 99 Barbershop currently operates. Charles Friedrich had only recently become the proprietor after having worked for the previous owner, John Kraushar.

It’s funny to see the “young folks” dancing in the advertisement since dancing was mostly frowned upon in Naperville at the time. A member of Naperville High School class of 1933 recalls that at their senior banquet, “none of us in the class were allowed to dance at the Tea Room. Our town was located in the middle of the Bible Belt, and social dancing was still considered in the ‘near occasion of sin’ category.”

As was common, both Beidelman and Friedrich were undertakers as well as furniture makers because coffin-building is similar to furniture-building. Both continue to operate businesses today as Friedrich- Jones Funeral Home and Beidelman-Kunsch Funeral Homes & Crematory.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Naperville 1920 Flashback: Staying in Touch by Phone

The city’s first telephone lines were installed in the 1880s by the Chicago Telephone Company, which in 1920 changed its name to Illinois Bell to represent its growing domain. When the City Council granted the telephone franchise to Chicago Telephone, they also received a number of telephones “free of charge” for the city’s use. 

Few homes or businesses had a telephone in those early years. Philip Beckman’s harness shop, which was on the corner of Washington Street where Jimmy’s Grill currently does business, was among the first, although the shop could only connect with his home. Pine Craig, or as it is known today, the Martin-Mitchell Mansion, also had a phone early on to assist with the brick and tile business the Martins ran out of their home office. The first public phone was installed in Thomas Saylor’s ice cream parlor.

Most phone service subscribers used party lines. The Chicago Telephone Company started pushing a two-party service by 1920 because “Troubles and annoyances, occasionally found on the four-party line, are eliminated,” but party-line services lingered for many years as it was cheaper. Saving money would soon became even more important, of course, due to the Great Depression which was followed by World War II.

Early wall phones required you to crank the magneto, which is a kind of generator, to power a bell that alerted the switchboard operator so you could ask them to connect you. Once your call was over, you cranked again to ring the bell to let them know they could disconnect you. The first candlestick phones also required the assistance of a switchboard operator, but instead of cranking a magneto, you clicked the receiver hook. Rotary phones were already available in 1920, but were not widely used for a few decades. 

To add new subscribers and explain this new-fangled device, telephone companies ran ads in local newspapers, like the one from The Naperville Clarion reminding people not to be “cross” when they get a busy signal. They also published helpful articles in the phone books on how to best use one’s phone. The first phone books were just a dozen or so pages and everyone had a three-digit phone number – except for a couple of special cases. For instance, Edwards Sanitorium’s phone number was “6.” 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Naperville 1920 Flashback: Built to Be Haunted?

In 1920, North-Western College (now North Central) celebrated its 50th anniversary in Naperville and was making plans to build Pfeiffer Hall. The Halloween season seems a good time to talk about how Pfeiffer is the site of many reported hauntings. 

Henry and Gustavus Pfeiffer, who were founders of Pfeiffer Chemical Company, were major donors and named the hall for their mother Barbara. Henry attended North-Western in 1875 and briefly operated a drugstore in Naperville on west Van Buren. In further business dealings, the brothers amassed a very impressive fortune. Henry and his wife, Annie, never had children and were inspired by “The Gospel of Wealth,” an article written by Andrew Carnegie who believed that those blessed with exceptional wealth had a responsibility of philanthropy. 

Carnegie built over 2,000 libraries across the country – in fact, there is one on North Central’s campus – and the Pfeiffers also shared their fortune with schools and churches in many states. In total, North Central College received $475,000 from Henry and Annie and the Pfeiffers were instrumental in raising the $230,000 it cost to build Barbara Pfeiffer Memorial Hall.

North-Western College was associated with the United Methodist Church and Pfeiffer Hall opened in 1926 as the Chapel-Music building with seating for almost a thousand. The auditorium continues to host speakers, plays and musical performances today, despite its haunted reputation.

Among the many ghosts sightings that have been reported are “Charlie Yellow Boots” and “The Lady in White.” Charlie is thought to be a custodian who worked at Pfeiffer until the 1950s and wore distinctive boots. A psychic supposedly described the spirit’s footwear which was recognized by someone who remembered the janitor. 

The Lady in White has been seen applauding from her seat in the audience during shows. The most popular candidate for who the Lady might be is Miss Anna Pates of Oak Park and there is considerable evidence to support that theory. 

Don Shanower was a professor in the theater department at North Central College from 1955 until 1986 and was also one of the founders of Naperville’s Summer Place Theatre. In the spring of 1966, he directed his students in a brand-new musical based on “The Mutiny on the Bounty.” “Bligh Me” was written by Robert Lewis and John Danyluk and this was a preview of the play they hoped would be continuing on to Broadway. 

A prolific writer of television scripts as well as advertising copy, Lewis was born in Oak Park, Illinois and his Aunt Anna, age 92, still lived there. She came to Naperville, all excited, to see her nephew’s play on Saturday, March 26, 1966, but, according to the story, she passed away during the first act. 

Family trees and census records prove the connection between Oak Park, Lewis, and Pates. A Chicago Tribune article announced the debut of “Bligh Me” in the March 24 issue. Pate’s obituary says she passed “suddenly” on March 26. And several family members have even written about the event online. 

While it’s interesting to confirm the facts of the story, whether Aunt Anna is actually haunting Pfeiffer Hall as the Lady in White is of course quite another matter! The next time you attend an event there, maybe you can find out for sure…

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Naperville 1920 Flashback: Power Farming

1920 was the first year that America’s population tipped toward an urban rather than rural majority. DuPage County and the surrounding area was still mainly farmland and towns like Naperville supplied farmers’ needs. Motorized tractors for the most up-to-date Power Farming were quite new. Henry Ford and his son Edsel had only started offering their Fordson tractor in 1917. It ran on kerosene and was intended to replace horses and oxen on farms. Because Ford’s automobiles had already created a widespread sales network, Fordson tractors were a favorite purchase.

The Cromer Bros. in Naperville sold the Henry Ford & Son tractors as well as the Mogul 10-20 from International Harvester. According to the Naperville Clarion newspaper ad about a “Power Farming” presentation, they operated out of a building at 22 Water Street. When one looks at the 1921 Sanborn map, however, it’s clear that this earlier Water Street is on the opposite side of the DuPage River from where Water Street is today.

That short stretch of Water Street in the 1920s extended from Chicago Avenue where Washington Street intersects and is now considered part of Chicago Avenue. This Clarion ad invites farmers to 22 Water Street and looking at the Sanborn map, there is a “Farm Machinery” building identified at that location, which seems to place it east of today’s Empire restaurant, where the photography studio is now. All of the buildings on that side of the street have changed hands many times and exactly which building housed Cromer’s I have not been able to confirm. 

International Harvester Company of America., 1917

Motor Co. Inc. is also listed in early 1920s directories across the street at 13-19 Water Street. In 1946, the Preemption House, which was at 25 Water Street, was torn down and Cromer Motors grew into that space as well. Today, that is the home of Sullivan’s restaurant. 

Unfortunately, as the decade wore on, agriculture faced a combination of factors that sent farming into a tailspin. After the first World War ended, there was less demand for grain and Prohibition contributed to an over-supply since grain was not needed to make alcohol either. At the same time, mechanical farming was improving yields which resulted in a drastic surplus and falling prices. The plight of farmers preceded the Great Depression by several years, even while urban dwellers thriving.