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Elgin: Days Gone By - Table of Contents

Chapter 6

FAMILY TIES

Father and Son

The geographic, social, and occupational mobility characteristic of American culture has often resulted in sons departing from the ways of their fathers. A local instance of this contrast between generations can be found in the lives of Samuel S. Wood and his son, Junius B. Wood.

Sam Wood, a farmer's son, was employed as a watch factory machinist for nearly forty years, 1881-1920. He also lived in the same house at 444 Prairie Street in Elgin for most of his working years. Sam believed in staying at home, content to enjoy familiar scenes and friends. While living in Elgin, he returned only twice to his former home in Pennsylvania to visit relatives. He allowed a day for the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 and once went on an excursion to Clinton, Iowa. Another time his interest in land investment took him to the Dakotas. These were the only occasions he was known to be away from Elgin.

Because Sam hoped that every family would be able to settle down in a home of their own, he was a leader in organizing the Elgin Loan and Homestead Association (now Home Federal) in 1883. The pooled savings of its members provided the funds for low-interest home loans. Sam Wood served on the Association's board of directors for 38 years and was its president for the last 11. He volunteered his time to the Association, using evenings and Sundays to stride along the city's streets appraising property.

Sam was deeply rooted in his home, his job, and his community; his son turned out to be a world rover. After his graduation from Elgin High School in 1896 and the University of Michigan in 1900, Junius Wood became a newsman. As a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, he covered the American occupation of Vera Cruz, Mexico, in 1914 and a Cuban revolution in 1917. He was with the American Expeditionary Force in Europe and Siberia, 1917-1920.

Junius Wood's assignments included the Balkans, Scandinavia, Central and South America, Japan, China, India, the Philippines, and Arabia. He reported more than a dozen national political party conventions, flew across the country in the airship Shenandoah, and was a passenger in a pioneering air mail flight from Argentina to the United States. The younger Wood was stationed in the Soviet Union, 1925-1928; observed the Japanese army in Manchuria, 1932-1933, and witnessed the rise of Adolph Hitler in Berlin, 1933-1934.

If today's youths follow different paths from the examples provided at home, you might remember the Woods. Theirs was a not uncommon pattern among fathers and sons, one which will occur more and more frequently in the lives of today's mothers and daughters.

Rovelstads Everywhere

Rovelstads live all over the United States. Although only a few branches of the ancestral tree remain here, this was the place their roots first took hold in America.

Two brothers, Peder and Sigvart Rovelstad, arrived in Elgin from eastern Norway in 1869. They left the family homestead in North Odal, about forty-five miles north of Oslo, for a little Midwestern city that was prospering with its watch and dairy industries.Four other Rovelstad broth ers-An drew, Hans, Erik and Theodore-would follow them to Elgin and, like Peder, find jobs helping to make fine jeweled watch movements. Andrew, a younger brother, came to Elgin in 1872, and Hans arrived in 1877. When Peder returned to Norway for a visit in 1888, he came back with an older brother, Erik, and his family. Theodore, who made the Atlantic crossing in 1886, was the last to come over.

Peder married a Swedish girl, Anna Louisa Anderson, in Elgin and was the first to become an American citizen. They were charter members of what is the now the Bethlehem Lutheran Church, and it was to their home that newly arriving Scandinavian immigrants came for counsel and sometimes an Americanized name.

Sigvart died in 1871, and Hans left for Ohio during the Panic of '93, but the four remaining Rovelstads and their wives raised twenty-seven children in Elgin. These Norwegian families were hard-working, closely knit, and attached to their churches.

Because the first generation was so prolific, if you were an Elgin resident in days gone by, it would have been bard to escape some contact with a Rovelstad. Perhaps one of them worked in your department at the watch factory, or sold you an engagement ring, or lived in your neighborhood, or was in your graduating class at the high school, or pulled your teeth.

Many Rovelstads were long identified with the Elgin National Watch Company. Erik was employed at the big factory along National Street for 34 years; his son, Carl Arthur, for 45 years, and his grandson, Edgar, for 46 years. Theodore was a watch worker for more than 40 years and his son, Aarne, was on the job for 38 years. Rovelstad wives and daughters also worked there. Fifty years ago, before the third generation began scattering over the country, of the 15 Rovelstad households in Elgin, ten were occupied by active or former employees of the Elgin National Watch Company.

One of the exceptions was Amund E. Rovelstad, Erik's son, who was employed by the David C. Cook Publishing Company for 51 years. Another was a son of Andrew, Dr. Henry R. Rovelstad, who practiced dentistry in Elgin for more than 35 years. Dr. Henry's two sons, Gordon and Wendell, were also dentists. The three Rovelstad dentists were each elected president of Elgin's Rotary Club.

Peder and Andrew were active in the founding of the little Zion Norwegian -D ani sh Lutheran Church on Griswold Street in 1882. Peder was one of the first deacons and the firstorganist. Andrew directed the cboirfor 30 years and was succeeded by his son, David. Another of Andrew's sons, Adolph, was one of the first babies to be christened at the church. Helen Rovelstad, Erik's granddaughter, married the church's pastor, the Reverend Ingolf Rognlie, who had the longest tenure at one church of any Elgin minister.

A Rovelstad family venture was long a fixture downtown on Fast Chicago Street. Peder and Andrew left the watch factory in 1883 to become partners in ajewelry store, opening up in a space ten feet wide and 40 feet deep. Their experience, integrity, and enterprise soon led to a thriving business. In the springtime Andrew would fill satchels with watches and jewelry and head north to the lumber camps of Michigan and Wisconsin, where Scandinavians were employed in large numbers. He also drove a carriage into the rural areas surrounding Elgin to sell to farm families. In the early days, the firm dealt in steamship tickets and sold and financed transportation for many immigrants. Four generations of Rovelstads worked at the store before it finally closed its doors in 1959. J. Arthur Rovelstad, Peder's son, was associated with the firm for nearly 70 years. He became a leader in Elgin's business community and served on the board of directors of what is now the Home Federal Savings & Loan Association for 39 years.

One of the reasons the Rovelstads made such rapid progress in becoming Americans and prospered in their adopted country was their faith in education. The second generation was encouraged to attend and graduate from high school in a day when most students left classrooms after the completion of the ninth or tenth grade. Twelve Rovelstad offspring received diplomas between 1890 and 1907. Three Rovelstad parents served on the board of education. Of the more than 50 graduates of Elgin High School listed in the prestigious Who's Who in America because of their significant achievements, three were Rovelstads. One of them, Trygve, was a noted sculptor and medalist.

The little town of about 5,000 residents that Peder Rovelstad first saw in 1869 is now an industrial city and service center with a population approaching 80,000. If the immigrant families arriving today find as many opportunities to contribute to our community well-being as did the Norwegian Rovelstads, Elgin will be indeed fortunate.


The Rovelstad jewelry store's phone was installed at the back of the office in 1901. Although the telephone company offered to replace it with newer models as time passed, the Rovelstads were reluctant to change. Note the antique pocket watch hanging on the wall. J. Arthur Rovelstad, shown here about to make a call in 1940, was a fixture, too. He was associated with the store from 1890 to its closing in 1959.

Hoaglands

For more than a century, through four generations and changingmodes of transportation, the Hoaglands hauled freight and people around Elgin.

Zephania Hoagland's aunt and uncle pioneered east of town in Hanover Township in 1837. Born in Steuben County, New York, Zeph also was an early arrival here, but didn't settle down in Elgin until he had tried his luck as a'49er seeking gold in California. Zepbania became a teamster whose horse-drawn wagon carried goods around the little mill town that grew into an industrial city during his lifetime.

Zeph's son, Sam C. Hoagland, was born in Elgin in 1855. He worked for his father and then purchased his own one-horse express wagon in 1876. The livery (a stable keeping horses and vehicles for hire) he bought four years later became one of Elgin=s largest. He also ran buses to and from the factories and supplied a big Tally-Ho wagon for picnics.

Sam Hoagland was a prudent businessman who maintained a card index on the cost of every animal and piece of equipment in his stable. His records indicated what each horse had eaten and earned. He also knew each one's habits. When a drummer had rented a rig to go to Dundee, be complained on returning that the horse had balked. Sam charged him more than originally agreed because the rig had gone all the way to Algonquin. How did Sam know? Old Betsy never stalled except on the Algonquin bill.

Some customers desired well-dressed drivers as well as a carnage. In the Hoagland wardrooms were 15 outfits of fur coats, gloves, and caps. There were enough neatly brushed silk hats to costume a half-dozen minstrel shows.

By the time be retired in 1913, Sam Hoagland owned 26 horses, 11 full-sized closed carriages, three hearses, three fancy conveyances, opera hacks, pallbearer wagons, two-seat carriages, picnic wagons, and one-seat light driving rigs of all descriptions.

Sam's son, Fred J. Hoagland, was born in Elgin in 1880 and joined the business after leaving high school. When the livery closed, he adapted to the motor age and started the Hoagland Taxicab Company with three Model-T Fords and two Reos, all black. Meters were introduced in 1919, and the original fare they tallied was 25 cents for the first mile and 10 cents for each succeeding two-fifths mile. After World War I, Fred began buying Yellow cabs manufactured in Chicago by John Hertz, and the firm's name was changed to the Elgin Yellow Cab Company.

The early Yellows had tonneaus in which only the passenger compartment was enclosed. The driver was in the open air, exposed to rain and snow. After Hertz sold out to General Motors, Hoagland switched to Chevrolets.

Two-way radios, which reduced cost and response time, were introduced in 1946. At its operating peak in the 1950s, Elgin Yellow had about 60 full and part-time employees, including three full time dispatchers, two telephone operators, maintenance shop repairmen, and drivers. The firm had 18 cars on the streets in the summer and 25 in the winter. The cars averaged about 7,000 mile per month. Eight new cars were purchased each year. By the end of the decade, Elgin Yellow had switched from Chevrolets to Checkers made in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Fred's son, Charles Hoagland, was born in Elgin in 1913. While still a boy, he learned the ropes by guiding new drivers around the city. He eventually became a partner in the business, withdrawing in 1964, but was driving his private livery until he reached the age of 70.

The Halls

Many Elgin residents today can trace their roots back to a woman born in slavery on an Alabama plantation. They are the third, fourth and fifth gene-ations in lineal descent from Mary Newsome, who was brought to Elgin as an infant on October 15, 1862.

in 1682, Mary Newsome married John H.C. Hall, who was born free in Chicago, the son of the Reverend A.T. Hall. John had served with the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry guarding Confederate prisoners at Camp Douglas in Chicago during the Civil War. He opened an Elgin barber shop with a younger brother, Elisha, John H. C. Hall was the moving spirit in the early days of the St. James African Methodist Church. In the absence of a regular pastor for the small congregation, he led the church as its Sunday school superintendent. He was the first black man to be called for jury service in Kane County and the first to be a candidate for a seat on the Elgin City Council.

There was some amazement in 1887, when he was accepted as a member of the local post of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Civil War veterans, and a white applicant was rejected. John H. C. Hall was also active in the formation of the Kane County Afro-American League, a pioneering group in the effort to obtain full civil rights for blacks.

Arthur "Pete" Hall was the son of John and Mary Hall. He was a tackle on the Elgin High School football team of 1900, which held all their opponents scoreless until they ventured up to Minnesota and were overwhelmed by a huge Minneapolis Central eleven. The next year he was elected team captain and in 1903 became the first black male to receive an Elgin High diploma.


Mary Wheeler and her son, Pete Hall, at the Emancipation Day Observance in 1937.

Pete Hall had many white friends during his high school days, but after graduation there were no jobs for blacks with an education. He left for St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1906 and worked as a bellhop while he learned barbering. Fond of music, be managed a professional quartet for many years and directed the senior choir at his church. Pete Hall also composed verses for black periodicals. One poem remembered his mother, Mary, on her birthday:

Another mile stone, Mother,
And like the others, it will bring you:
A richer sweetness in each tender smile,
A wiser understanding of the faults in friends,
A deeper reverence for your God, the while
A greater love for me.
After the death of John Hall, his widow, Mary, married Lewis Wheeler. A son ofthis second marriage, Eugene L. Wheeler, served asa wardroom cook in the U.S. Navy, 1917-1921,on ships transporting troops to and from France. Blacks at that time were barred from becoming seamen. In 1945, when an Elgin unit of the American War Mothers was formed, it was named in honor of Mary Wheeler, the child born in slavery, the wife of a Civil War soldier, and the mother of a World War I veteran.

Cedar Hill

Thomas George Fonnereau Dolby was an English jeweler and inventor of a widely used life preserver. He became a commission merchant, buying butter on the Elgin market as a member of the Board of Trade, preserving it in cans here by a process of his own devising, and shipping it to the London market. These operations led to frequent voyages between England and America.

A widower with 14 children, seven sons and seven daughters, he married an Elgin woman, Sarah Kelly Griff. The family came to live here in time for the birth of a son in 1886. Two years later the Dolbys erected a brick home on a high point of land at 408 North Crystal Street. He planted seven red cedar trees and called the place Cedar Hill.

After the butter business failed, the family was supported by a metal stamping venture. A factory was erected along Silver Street, in back of the Dolby home. A huge press, weighing 11,500 pounds and embedded in a ten-ton rock base, was used to turn out badges, insignia, medallions, and ornamental buttons. The Dolby children were the chief employees. One of them, Ellen, lost part of a finger on the job.

At first Dolby bought waste pieces of tin discarded in the manufacture of cans at the Borden condensed milk plant. Later he worked out a process which eliminated the difficulty of soldering aluminum. T. G. F. Dolby, adorned with the beard of a patriarch, was a deeply religious man. Many of the stampings contained a Bible verse and scriptural reference.

A growing number of German-speaking residents in the neighborhood of Cedar Hill were without a neighborhood church. DAY offered the use of part of his tin plate factory for a Sunday school. By the second week, 125 members had filled the allowable space to capacity. Stimulated by this indication of religious need, the First Church of the Evangelical Association, now Faith United Methodist, decided to erect a mission church next to the Dolby home in 1895.

Elgin was still suffering the effects of a severe business depression that had been lingering for more than two years. Idle contractors and an abundance of unemployed, eager to work the standard ten-hour day, six-day week, were available. With winter fast approaching, the church lost no time. Gilbert M. Turnbull, the city's leading architect, and his young associate, William C. Jones, planned a building with a main auditorium, 26 by 40 feet, connected by a large sliding door with two classrooms, each 13 by 21 feet in size, and a library six by ten feet. They coordinated and closely supervised the steps in construction.

About 100 men employed by four contractors went to work. Excavation began at 1 p.m. on November 21st, while snow, already a foot deep, was falling. Four days later masons were laying the stone foundation. By the 30th, carpenters had sills on and the first floor joists in position, and on December 2nd, the frame was going up. By the 10th, the furnace was installed, the roof had been shingled, and all outside work was completed. Plastering was finished on the 13th, and the leaded glass was installed the next day.

Seven men did the painting and decorating in two days. All rooms and the vestibule were wainscotted. The exterior was Painted in light cream and chocolate. Bythe 21st, carpets had been laid, opera seats placed in position, and everything was ready for the first service on the 22nd. The building and site cost about $3,200, and the church was dedicated debt free.

This church, built in 26-1/2 working days, the old Dolby home with cedar trees out front, and the former stamping factory are still standing together on the near west side.

Wings

Wing Street, Wing School (now converted into the Burnham Schoolhouse Apartments), Wing Park, and Wing Park Boulevard. What are the origins of this frequent use of the name Wing in Elgin?

Washington and Adeline Wing moved from Michigan to the Elgin area in 1846, eventually settling on a farm northwest of town. Wing Street now bisects their acreage. Their oldest son, William H. Wing, after reading law in a local office and attending the University of Michigan, was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1867. He soon developed a thriving local practice, to which he later added lending and real estate interests. In 1861, William Wing married Abby C. Saunders, who had come west from New Hampshire to teach in a country school, the forerunner of what is now the Illinois Park building.

Newly built at a cost of $760 for District Number 2, it was often called the McLean or Wing District School from the names of nearby farm families. She was employed for the 1854-55 winter term at $3 per week and board and for the spring term at $2.50 per pupil. Following a year in the Dundee area, she returned to Elgin in 1856. Abby Saunders became one of the city's most respected educators. She was at one time the principal teacher at the New Brick School and also taught at Elgin Academy.

For many years the Wings occupied a home built before the Civil War at what is now 972 West Highland Avenue. They enlarged and rebuilt this residence in 1890-91. The original section became part of the north end.

Designed by Smith Hoag, a local architect, the improvements and carriage house cost about $13,000, a princely sum in those days. The exterior was shingled in cedar; lavish use of cherry wood enhanced the elaborate interior. There were four tiled fireplaces, heavy sliding doors, widows adorned with stained glass, and wide sills.

The Wings' hospitality delighted a host of friends, and their charities helped a number of unfortunates. Mrs. Wing was an active member of the Woman's Club, and her husband was a director of the First National Bank. Then, early in the morning of March 20, 1897, tragedy struck the Wing home when a fire broke out in the attic. Abby Wing went up a circular staircase to save a box of keepsakes and was caught in the blaze. Overcome by smoke before rescuers could reach her, her body was burned beyond recognition.

When anew school opened on Kimball Street in 1899, it was named in memory of Abby C. Wing. The building was erected on the site of the New Brick School in which she once taught. The Wings were childless. The widower, who died in 1902, bequeathed a 121-acre portion of his lands, called Sulphur Springs, to the city of Elgin for development as a park.

Generations of residents have enjoyed this generous inheritance. Where Washington Wing once plowed, we can now play golf and softball, swim and picnic, and listen to band music.

The Adams Family

Elgin, a city with a history, has been the home of many long established families. Eight generations of the Kimball line, beginning with the arrival of Joseph Kimball in 1835, have been in continuous residence since the first settlement. Another one of our notable and prolific old "watch factory" families can trace its local origins to John Spencer Adams (1834-1894), a Waltham machinist, and his wife, the former Fannie Smith (1836-1925). Coming west from Massachusetts in 1866, they were among the many New Englanders arriving to start up watch manufacturing in Elgin. The family homestead is still standing at 624 St. Charles Street.

Adams, who enlisted in the Union army, was released from service to take charge of an arsenal because of his mechanical abilities. He is said to have devised the breech block system for the Sharps carbine and an early hand grenade.

John Spencer Adams began working at the local watch factory before the first movement began ticking, a mark of considerable prestige in the newly industrialized city, and he became foreman of the screw and flat steel departments. Leaving the watch factory in 1882, he became an engineer and designer for electric companies.

He helped to form the first YMCA, was elected an alderman, and served as Sunday School superintendent of the First Methodist Church. In addition to inventing a model steel bridge and an improvement on a windmill, he patented the tubular arc light tower and erected the system in Aurora, the first city in the United States to be so illuminated.

A younger brother, Oscar 0. Adams (1847-1924), also followed the path of New England craftsmen to Elgin. He was employed by the Elgin National Watch Company, 1866-1919, was the first boarder to sleep in the firm's National House, and was an original member of the factory fire department. He and his wife, the former Ada Tewksbury (1850-1913) had five children. All four of their sons began their working days at the watch factory, and one of them, Walter B. Adams (1884-1946), was employed there 41 years.

John Spencer and Fannie Adams were the parents of 11 children, eight of them boys. The oldest of those who survived to maturity was Frederick Upham Adams (1859-192 1), who graduated with the Elgin High School Class of '76. Starting out as a watch factory apprentice, he became an Elgin newsman, then left for Chicago. He covered the Haymarket Riot aftermath as a labor reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He was a pioneer in fighting air pollution as chief of Chicago's smoke inspection bureau, organized and promoted America's first automobile race in 1895, invented the electric lamp post, designed this country's first streamlined train, and became a successful novelist.

Other sons also entered the electrical and mechanical fields. Charles Francis Adams (1865-1944) Elgin High School '82, collaborated with his brother in building the experimental streamliner, the Windsplitter, in 1900 that demonstrated the efficiency of this innovation. An electrical engineer, he is credited with harnessing mountain streams in California to provide hydroelectric power for cities along the West Coast.

Albert Barnes "Bert" Adams (1874-1937) specialized in the construction of electric power plants and lines and then became the chief electrician of the Elgin National Watch Company, 1904-1936.

George Spencer Adams (1872-1950), like his father, was trained as a machinist. Around the turn of the century he opened a local bicycle shop and produced the custom-made Adams bicycle. From bicycles he turned to motorcycles and then to automobiles. He obtained Elgin's first Ford agency and also sold Cadillacs, Buicks, Ramblers and other cars. In 1918 he sold his garage and established the Oak Ridge Spring Company, distributing bottled spring water from his wells at West Chicago and Union Streets. He retired from this business in 1946.

A daughter, Hattie Emeline Adams (1863-1957), Elgin High School'79, married James Myers, foreman of the watch factory carpentry department. She was one of the few teachers of the period who continued in the classroom after marriage. She retired in 1904 after 20 years service in the Elgin public schools.

George S. Adams married Clarice Strubing (1887-1974). They were the parents of three sons. George L. Adams, Elgin High School'29, was the personnel director for the Elgin Watch company's Plant Number 2, the St. Charles Manufacturing Company, 1946-1964, and Sherman Hospital, 1964-1974. Robert G. Adams (1915-1979), Elgin High School '33, sharing the mechanical bent of his father and grandfather, was a watch factory machinist and later the plant engineer for Hoffer Plastics. Gordon C. Adams, Elgin High School'36, went to work at the local Leath Store as truck helper and sales trainee in 1939. He was elected president of the then 50-store home furnishing chain in 1973 and retired as chairman of its board of directors.

Another grandson of John Spencer and Fannie Adams, J. Wesley Adams, Elgin High School '3 1, became a foreign service officer with the State Department. He attended the Bretton Woods conference that established postwar international monetary policy, was a technical expert at the formation of the United Nations in San Francisco, and later became an advisor to the U.S. representative on the UN Security Council.

The watch factory is gone, but descendants of the two Adams brothers who came to Elgin more than a century ago continue to live in the community their family helped to develop. If you are interested in learningmore about the history ofyour own family, members of the Elgin Genealogical Society may be of assistance.

Forces

Did Jonathan Force bury gold on his Elgin land, and is the alleged hoard still there? "It's thar, it's thar somewheres," wrote his great grandson, Delos C. Force, from his home in Santa Barbara, California. "Go and get it," he told gold seekers, but he denied any and all responsibility for damaged utility lines.

Jonathan Force arrived here from upstate New York in 1843. A mechanic and carpenter, he was employed in the early day farm machinery and implement industry. In the fall of 1848 he Purchased a site along Gifford Street extending from Chicago to Division. The one-story house he erected at what is now 392 E. Chicago Street provided a home for his wife, Louisa, and their six children. Their oldest son, Albert, died at the age of 15 during the Civil War.

About 1865, Force bought 40 acres of land lying east of North Liberty Street between what is now the north side of Park Street and the south side of Linden Avenue. There he erected greenhouses and engaged full-time in the fruit growing business. Raspberries and strawberries were his chief crops, but he also had about 100 apple and 400 cherry trees. His house in the northwest corner of his little farm is still standing at 625 Park Street.

Jonathan and Louisa were divorced, and he remarried. Louisa provided some amusement for those who consulted the 1881-82 city directory. She identified herself as a widow. With the expansion of the city, Jonathan profitably subdivided portions of his land in 1871 and 1881. The rest of the property was platted by his heirs in 1892.

All this can be ascertained from existing records. Now for the family legend of the Force gold. Jonathan was said to have scorned paper money and used only gold coins. A bitter enmity developed between his son, Delos M. Force, and his stepmother. When Jonathan was dying in 1888, he begged to see Delos, who wasn't told of his father's approaching death.

Delos believed that if he had been allowed to see his father, Jonathan would have revealed where he had buried his gold. Delos was told not to come to the funeral, but he went to the undertaker's, climbed aboard the hearse, brandished a loaded .44 and dared anyone to stop him. The gold was never found, but Jonathan's great grandson, who beard the story many times, said, "The gold is there. I know enough to feel it."

The House on Highland

Back in 1891, the house at 620 Highland Avenue was brand new. A long veranda ended in a semi-circle. There were two balconies and an arched carriage-way. It had 20 rooms, six of them with fireplaces. The people who once called this place home were members of one of Elgin's most notable families, the Pecks.

George Peck left his father's Dundee farm when only 12 years old to clerk in an Elgin dry goods store. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted at the age of 17 in the 52nd Illinois Infantry Regiment and served for three years until mustered out with his health severely impaired. After a long convalescence, he opened a store in 1868 with the Bosworth brothers and struck out on his own in 1881. His business prospered, and in 1892 Peck bought the old city hall on South Grove Avenue and erected a big four-story building on the site. Peck's became Elgin's leading department store. When it was destroyed in the Palm Sunday tornado of 1920, he sold out to Joseph Spiess. He had been a merchant for more than 50 years.

Peck had other interests besides his store. He was one of the organizers of what became the Elgin Windmill Company and was its president, 1910-1935. He was also president of the Elgin City Banking Company, the mortgage lending adjunct of the First National Bank.

Mrs. Peck, the former Julia Chapman, attended Elgin Academy and taught school before her marriage in 1877. Impressed by a visit to a home for the elderly during an eastern trip, she realized a need for a similar institution in Elgin. She interested others in founding the Old People's Home, now Oak Crest Residence, and served on its board.

The Pecks had two children. Margaret, the oldest, graduated from Elgin High School in 1896 and from Smith College in 1901. She married in 1909 Alfred D. Edwards, who owned a half interest in the Woodruff and Edwards foundry, 1911-1938. Mrs. Edwards, like her mother, was an active supporter of the Old People's Home and the YWCA. For many years she served on the board of trustees of Elgin Academy. The Margaret Peck Edwards Learning Center, opened on the Academy's campus in 1969, is named in her honor. In 1927 she and her husband donated a 50acre tract on Lake Beulah in Wisconsin to th e Elgin YMCA to be developed as Camp Edwards.

The Pecks' youngest child, Richard K. "Dick" Peck, became Elgin's pioneering aviator. He was the pilot for two expeditions, the first in 1925 to New Guinea, where he flew over uncharted Mountains, and the second to a primitive area of Papua with scientists seeking a disease resistant sugar cane. In 1931, while he was testing an experimental plane sponsored by the Chicago Daily News, the aircraft crashed near Wheaton, killing the entire crew.

George Peck died in his home at the age of 92 in 1935, and Julia went to live with her daughter and son-in-law. The house at 620 Highland was later used as a chiropractic center and beauty parlor. When finally vacated, it was heavily vandalized and stripped of its brass door knobs, interior fretwork, fireplace mantels and stained glass. Now more than a century old, the home has been remodeled into luxury apartments. Some older passers-by still call it the Pecks' place.

The Bowling Westermans

For 28 years a unique bowling tournament was held in Elgin. The participants weren't famed champions, and the prizes weren't anything special. What was remarkable about the annual event was the fact that all the competitors were the sons of Peter and Anna Westerman.

Nine brothers started the tradition on February 14, 1922, at the basement Rothfuss alleys on South Grove Avenue, where river rats were among the spectators. The Westerman's youngest son, Harold "Duke," brought the number of participants to ten in 1924 after he turned 14. Despite his late start, Duke won the most tournaments, a total of five.

In the early days, Ma and Pa Westerman and the brothers' families were the only cheering section. As the years went by, an enthusiastic audience gathered. Prizes contributed by merchants were awarded for high series, high game, most strikes, most railroads, and other feats.

The tournaments were always held on Sundays. Back in the 1920s this meant the brothers had to ask the mayor for special permission to open the alleys. In addition to the Rothfuss lanes, the brothers also rolled at the Kelley Hotel and Schneider's Recreation.

Joe, the second oldest, was the statistician and tourney manager. Each brother rolled against his own individual average. The one having the highest total above his average received a silver trophy. The winner was allowed to keep it for one year. Three victories gave the winner permanent possession. Art "A.J." in 1930, Harry "Red" in 1935, and Frank "Sam" in 1946 each retired a trophy. Leo didn't win a tournament until 1949.

Five-member bowling teams comprised of the brothers were not as rare as the ten Westermans. A picked team of five Westermans placed third out of ten teams in an All-Brothers Classic in Chicago.


From the left, front row: Pete, Leo, and Art (AJ).  In back, from the left: Frank (Sam), Joe, Paul, Harold (Duke), Ed (Bozo), George, and Harry (Red).

The Westermans also competed in matches against other brother teams from Bremerton, Washington; Stevens Point, Wisconsin; North Chicago; and Erie, Pennsylvania. The last match was a widely publicized telegraphic contest.

By 1949 three of the brothers-Leo, Joe, and Paul-were grandfathers. After Art "A.J.," died later that year, the tournaments ended. The Westerman s enjoyed bowling and the competition with each other, but the lasting memories came from the family reunions they occasioned at the home of Ma and Pa.
 
 

        



Chapters -

  1  ELGIN NAMES
  2  MEMORABLE EVENTS
  3  FOX RIVER
  4  ANIMAL FRIENDS
  5  VETERANS
  6  FAMILY TIES
  7  GOOD OLD DAYS?
  8  THE UNEXPECTED
  9  IMMIGRANTS & COLONISTS
10  THE SPORTING LIFE
11  ELGINITES
12  LANDMARKS GONE
13  NEIGHBORS
14  MUSIC MAKERS & ARTISTS
15  CRIMINAL ACTS
16  CELEBRITIES AND PRESIDENTS
17  ALL KINDS OF DWELLINGS
18  POLITICOS
19  OUR GAL NETTIE
20  CLUBS
21  BOUNDARY LINES
22  IT TAKES TIME
23  MADE IN ELGIN
24  AROUND TOWN
25  THE END

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