Lords Park, Central Park, Sherman Hospital, the YMCA, Elgin Academy, and Oak Crest Residence all received generous financial support from George P. Lord (1819-1906) and his wife, Mary E. C. Lord (1832-1905). G. P. Lord, pictured above, was a business manager of the watch company, the owner of a dairy farm, a mayor, president of the board of education, and president of the First National Bank.
Elgin is the only Eve, energetic, go-ahead booming city in northern Illinois. Let her continue to boom, and to all who wish to join in this boom with us, we may say come, for we have room for all.1
Chapter IV. The Expanding City
The city's population more than tripled between 1870 and 1890, rising from 5,431 to 17,723. New residents arrived from farms and foreign lands to fill jobs opening up at the watch factory and other industries. Boarding houses were crammed, and the volume of real estate transactions generated by new homes led to the hiring of additional clerks in the recorder's office at the county seat. Elgin grew so rapidly that it was necessary to put up street signs in 1882, and house numbers were assigned in 1884. Ramshackle wooden buildings which dotted the downtown area were tom down and replaced by more substantial brick structures. The owner of a business district lot he had purchased for $7,000 in 1870 was offered $65,000 for it in 1886.
1. City Services
The growing population density placed a greater burden upon the city government to provide the services and social controls required by urbanization. The city fathers were confronted with one new problem and expense after another. Fire hazard was the most pressing of these. In the early morning of July 8, 1865 the city's first major fire swept the entire north side of Chicago Street in the business district east of Douglas Avenue. This was followed in October by another conflagration, probably of incendiary origin, on the southeast side of Market Square. There was no city fire department, and the task of battling the flames was based on individual efforts.
An alarm bell was placed in the tower of the woolen mill in 1867, volunteer fire companies were organized under City Council supervision in 1868, and in 1869 the city purchased its first steam fire engine, the "James T. Gifford." A year later the city's fire fighting capacity consisted of a chief engineer, two assistants and one hundred fifty volunteers in the Elgin Hook and Ladder Company, the Ed Joslyn Hose Company, and the James T. Gifford Engine Company. The interests of the volunteers were also social, and probably more time was spent on reviews and parties than in training. Borden's milk condensing plant donated two thousand dollars for a hose cart specifically for parades.
The new equipment did not prevent the destruction of the distillery buildings by fire in 1870, and fires ravaged the business district for many years. Particularly large disasters occurred in 1874 when flames engulfed several buildings on both sides of Chicago Street east of the Square; in 1877, when a block of wooden buildings surrounded by Douglas, Division, Milwaukee, and River were consumed; and in 1879, when Town's Block blazed for the second time. Eventually an alarm system was developed to locate an outbreak, and fire limits - within which no wooden structures were to be erected - were more stringently enforced.
The weakening old wooden bridge over Chicago Street was replaced by an ill-fated span of iron in 1866. It collapsed when steers from the distillery yards stampeded. On July 4, 1869 it crumpled again when too many spectators lined the rail to watch a tub race. Traffic generated by the watch factory required a second bridge at National Street. A truss bridge was erected for twelve thousand dollars in 1870.
In 1869 a new City Court House was built at public expense on River Street opposite the foot of DuPage. It was a brick building, twenty-two by forty feet, and in 1873 required an addition, twenty-two by sixty feet. The fire engine and a hose company occupied the ground floor of the first part when the clerical offices were transferred to the addition. The total cost of the building was sixteen thousand dollars. The same year Elgin acquired this new municipal building and fire engine, the city's boundaries were extended south to the line of Sections 22, 23, and 24, including about one square mile of new territory. This brought the city's area to about five and a quarter square miles.
Old streets had to be straightened and improved and new ones laid out. Sam Wilder, an alderman in 1870-72, was chiefly responsible for the elimination of a ravine which stretched from Villa and Chapel Streets and from Fulton Street to Chicago Street and impeded growth of the east side. Over objections by adjacent property owners, Wilder was able to get the street grade raised, leaving the lots at a lower level. Much of the center of the block bounded by Chapel, Chicago, Geneva and DuPage Streets remains several feet below street and sidewalk.
Keeping the city clean and free of odors was a never ending chore. In a three-month period in 1873 the health officer's crews carted off fifteen wagon loads of manure and decomposing matter, removed and disinfected more than a hundred privies, and cleansed all pig-pens within the city. He was pleased to report that the practice of throwing slop and other garbage into the streets and alleys was almost wholly discontinued and that butchers had ceased slaughtering within the city.
State legislation authorizing public libraries was enacted in March 1872, and less than a month later Elgin voters approved the organization of a library supported by a township tax. The first library board was elected in 1873, and in December of that year books and furniture of the defunct YMCA reading room were purchased as the nucleus of a collection. The seven-hundred-volume circulating library of Denison and Burdick was purchased for three hundred dollars, and other books were procured in Chicago bringing the total to about two thousand volumes when the library formally opened its doors on March 19, 1874. Louis H. Yarwood, a landscape artist, served as the first librarian. By 1880 the library owned, exclusive of public documents, over five thousand volumes.
Alfred B. Church and Samuel M. Church donated the former home of David C. Scofield on Spring Street to the township for use as a library. They stipulated that it be named the Gail Borden Public Library in memory of their stepfather. After extensive remodeling, the building opened in 1894 to house the 14,000 volumes then in the collection.
Some services were provided by private enterprise. The city's first public utility was the Elgin Gas Light Company, organized in 1871. A gas plant was constructed on the west bank of the Fox between the Chicago Street and National Street bridges. Coal was used to manufacture the gas, and slack lime was used to purify it. By-products included coke and tar, which were used locally. Lights were first turned on in 1872, and the early years were marked by a struggle to keep up with the demand, especially on Saturday nights when the stores were open late. By 1875 five miles of street mains had been laid. Lamp posts were installed on street comers, at first in the business district, and were maintained by lamplighters. Most of the churches, public buildings, and stores by that time were equipped with gas lights, and a number of private homes had been furnished with gas jets.
Despite the popularity of the new illumination, the firm was financially pressed and could not always pay its bills on time. Once a coal dealer sent representatives to Elgin to seize the gas plant and stationed a guard with a gun to keep employees out. James Scanlan, one of the workers, forced his way in, wrenched the gun out of the guard's hand, and kept the lights burning. The firm went into receivership in 1876, and in 1880 it was succeeded by the Elgin Gas Light and Coke Company. The plant was sold in 1889 to the American Gas Company of Philadelphia and operated under the name Elgin-American Gas Company.
Encouraged by complaints about the flickering gas street lamps, George S. Bowen, the promoter of the Chicago & Pacific railway, received a franchise to light the city from seven arc light towers. One of these, one hundred fifty feet high, was erected on Fountain Square. The others' one hundred twenty-five feet high, were scattered about the city, rising up over buildings and trees like gigantic oil derricks. At night they supported balls of intense white light. Each day in all kinds of weather, caretakers had to climb them to adjust the carbon elements or replace the fiftypound lamps. The generators were located in a plant on North River Street and were powered by a water wheel. They were subsequently removed to the canning factory, where a steam engine, in use only a few months of the year during the harvest season, was available. Two additional towers were built later, making a total of nine, six on the east side and three on the west side.
Elgin first basked in the radiance of electricity on the night of November 24, 1883, and a News reporter became lyrical in describing the halo which "stole across the black river and made silvery pathways; the very air seems warmed by the gentle influence; and when one stood where he could see all the towers at a distance, the lights appeared merged into one large ball on each structure, and to stand like sentinels at convenient intervals, watching over the destinies of a busy city."2
Henry Sherman's house in 1884 became the first to have electric lights, using a direct current system, and late in 1885 the Elgin Incandescent Light Company was readying city-wide service from a generator on River Street with an initial capacity to feed five thousand bulbs.
As early as November 1878 the watch factory had established "telephonic" connections with its Chicago office. In June of 1881 the City Council authorized the Chicago Telephone Company to erect and maintain pole lines within the city. Will Hubbard, the son of one of the early settlers, was selected to build the plant and became its local manager. In August a switchboard was installed on the second floor of the Hubbard Block and an exchange service was ready for thirty-seven subscribers. Phone number 1 was in the home of George Hunter, 2 in the watch factory, and 3 in the National House. Elgin's first public telephone link with Chicago came in July 1882.
Bruce Payne, a clerk in the railway postal service, received a city franchise to operate a horse car line in 1876. Although the service did not begin until November 25, 1878, local boosters were elated that Elgin had this innovation before Aurora and Rockford. The tracks originally ran on Grove Avenue between the watch factory and Fountain Square. The tickets for this short ride were seven for a quarter. In 1880 the line was extended north on Douglas to Kimball Street, and Sunday service began. The next year, when George Congdon's opened a shoe factory the line was again lengthened north on Douglas to Slade. Later, in 1886, track was laid from Douglas over North Street to Dundee Avenue and up Dundee to Enterprise Street.
At the peak of this operation, Payne was using eighteen horses on his line, employed five men, and ran four cars steadily with one reserved for special occasions. A barn at Douglas and Plum was large enough to hold all five cars. A familiar sight was the unhitching of the horse, or sometimes a mule, from the forward end at the terminal and transferring him to the other end, which then became the front of the car. There was no protection from the weather for the driver as he stood on the platform. When the brakes failed the horse felt the car bang against his legs. If this occurred too often, the horse would retaliate with kicks against the dashboard.
Poor track maintenance on the unpaved streets was the cause of many complaints. At times the bottom of the inside of the rails was in some places three to four inches above the street due to holes and depressions. This made it dangerous for vehicles to cross except at right angles to the track.
Within sixteen years Elgin had built two bridges and a new city hall, organized a public library, purchased its first fire engine, and provided for electric street lights, public transportation, gas lamps in homes and stores, and telephone service. A second railroad had entered the city, and a large insane asylum had arisen on the outskirts. It was an amazing performance, especially to many of the city's residents who remembered when only a few log cabins dotted the countryside.
2. The School District
The pressing need for city services left little money for the overflowing public schools. In 1869 they were re-graded to provide two-year sequences for the primary and intermediate departments, a three-year course in the grammar school, and a four-year course in the high school. The new arrangement was the work of Charles F. Kimball, the city's first professional educator. Kimball had come to Elgin the preceding year as principal of the New Brick. The following year he was named Superintendent. It was "Professor" Kimball's trying task to find the classroom space for the burgeoning enrollments and to recruit and train a constantly increasing staff. Through it all he steadily improved the standards of instruction and acquired a considerable reputation in the field. Elgin High School graduated its first class on June 27, 1872, when three young ladies each read an essay and received a diploma.
When the Baptists abandoned their cobblestone church on the southeast comer of Geneva and DuPage Streets in 1870 for a new building, the old church was purchased for use as a school and another school, a small frame structure, was erected on the hill near the watch factory. These additions were far short of the need for space. About the year 1872 the chairman of the Council's committee on schools wrote a despairing report:
The fact that we are compelled to crowd fifteen hundred pupils into the room intended for eight hundred will at once show you the necessity for more school room.
Some of our school buildings are nearly wom out, fast going to decay ... The chimneys are defective, rendering it necessary in the winter season often to close school on alc smoke. There is no provision for ventilation in any of the buildings ... In many, if not all, the privy accommodations are poor and altogether insufficient, boys and girls mingling like savages or wasting their opportunity.3
Teachers were accepting positions in other communities because of the low pay. Something had to give, and the solution was to turn the function of education over to a school district independent of the municipality. The proposal was approved by the voters in March 1873, by a vote of 609 to 124. In addition to the county, the township and the city, a fourth unit of local government was thus laid over the city limits.
The new Board of Education did little to improve facilities, and the classrooms remained overcrowded. A brick Locust Street School was finally opened in 1881, but the pressure was not relieved until voters approved a forty thousand dollar bond issue in 1882 for the construction of a new high school and a new elementary building. The National Street School and two of its original four rooms opened in 1883, replacing the little wood-sided school which was moved to a new location on Bent Street. Construction of the new Elgin High School on DuPage Street near Chapel was completed in April 1884. Proudly described as one of the finest buildings of the kind in the northwest, the building cost $25,950 and had a seating capacity of four hundred and fifty. Old Brick was razed at the completion, giving the -new building an expanse of lawn to the West. Fronting as it did upon the park, the surroundings were considered magnificent.
Another bond issue continued the expansion. The Prospect Street (McKinley) School opened in 1886, and the next year the Mill Street (Grant) School replaced the little brick building that had long been a landmark on the west side. The Oak Street (Lowrie) School, the May Street (Garfield) School, and the Hill Street (Sheridan) School opened in 1889. They were all brick with buff Bedfored stone trim and slate roofs. There were separate cloak rooms and exits for boys and girls.
The Academy's development was retarded by a frequent change of principals and chronic deficits. During the Civil War the building and grounds were advertised for sale to pay off the mortgage. On the day of the sale, after the auctioneer had made his announcement of the terms, Dr. Joseph Tefft stepped forward and declared, "It is a blame shame and disgrace to the citizens of Elgin to permit this sale, and I will be one to redeem it."4 His words inspired contributions from others, and the sale was called off.
An upturn came in the arrival in 1870 of Principal Amos G. Sears, who organized a curriculum to prepare students for "College, Teaching, Business and Life."5 By 1879 the Academy was free of debt and had two hundred eighty-five students in attendance. When Sears left in 1884 the school again went into a period of decline. After the opening of the new Elgin High School building, the Academy's students came mainly from farms and outlying villages where no high schools were operating. It was also handicapped by lack of affiliation with a religious denomination, which deprived the school of both a potential source of funds and students from outside the immediate locality. Pointing to the improving public high school, the Advocate asked, "Is the academy a real need of our situation and our times?"6
One response by the Academy to this question was an attempt to broaden its offerings with a manual training program before the public high school entered the field. Lovell Hall, built with funds contributed by a mother of one of the original Academy students, opened in 1888. The three-story stone and brick building housed a foundry, blacksmith shop, a machine room and a wood shop, but the innovation failed to stem the drop in enrollments.
3. The River
Called Pishtaka by the Indians and Riviere des Renards by French trappers, the Fox powered Elgin mills, for a time furnished a water supply, received the city's wastes, and afforded the pleasures of boating and fishing. For these benefits the river periodically exacted a toll in human lives and property damage. Five persons-a mother and her baby, two young women and a girl-perished in 1864 when a boat in which they were passengers struck a partly submerged stump.
The current quietly undermines or in sudden outbursts rebels against man-made impediments to its flow. A spring freshet washed out the darn and bridge in 1849. Another major flood on the Fox came in 1857, but was destructive mainly in the lower reaches from Batavia south.
The heaviest snowfalls anyone could remember came in February and March, 1881. Beginning February 11 the rail lines and country roads were blocked by drifts as high as fifteen feet. All available men were pressed into shovel bridges to clear the rails. There was more on the 18th. The Advocate sounded a warning the next day: "It is getting late in the season and ... when the break-up comes it will come quickly. And with the ground frozen almost solid, and the wealth of snow, another flood is not only Possible, but probable." Still more snow came on the 27th. A St. Paul train on the way to Elgin was stalled near Roselle for sixty hours. Passengers had to be supplied with provisions from farm homes. When an even heavier snow fell on March 2, all train service in and out of the city was abandoned for five days, and the price of fluid milk in Chicago soared as supplies were cut off. Snow on the level in the streets of the now isolated city was six feet deep, and business was at a standstill.
When the warm spring rains came, the Fox was still frozen solid, and the snow remained several feet deep in many places. The thaw raised the river level and broke up the ice in huge chunks, which battered the bridge piers and knocked out some of the stones. Water was three feet deep on parts of Grove Avenue. The contents of outhouses floated about on the surface, polluting the air. The basement of the watch factory and cellars of the downtown buildings were filled. The jail 'in the city courthouse was flooded, and at times the water lapped onto the first floor. The fire house was used as a place of detention for prisoners who were handcuffed to the wheels of the James T. Gifford engine.
April 19th was the day of the city election. The backers of mayoral candidate Frank H. Bosworth had voted early, but the west side supporters of his opponent, William H. Hintze, were planning to vote en masse in the late afternoon. Before they had assembled to cross the river to the one polling place, word spread that the dam and bridge were giving way. Crowds watched parts of buildings and cakes of ice six feet in thickness and many yards square whirl about in the river. The climax came when a barn sweeping along with the torrent struck the crumbling supports at the east end of the bridge, bending and twisting the iron. Two sections fell with a resounding crash, and in the excitement, voting came to a halt. The Hintze men long claimed the bridge collapse was responsible for his defeat.
Supports for the St. Paul railroad trestle were also taken out, and about eighty feet of the track went down. The North Western trestle was so badly damaged it could not be safely used. Freight and passengers had to be transferred by bus and wagon.
Only the National Street bridge was available for pedestrians and teams, and the new mayor and five of the aldermen informally authorized a ferry boat at Chicago Street. The crudely built craft placed in operation was eleven by eighteen feet in dimension, flat bottomed, and shallow. The wobbly railings were insecurely nailed. The top edge of the sixteen-inch sides was about even with the water, and frequent bailing was necessary. To keep the boat from being carried away by the strong current, it was attached to a cable stretched across the river. The men in charge were unable to enforce a rule that only fifteen were to be carried at a time.
The boat was overcrowded on the morning of April 28th. Among the more than twenty passengers were students crossing over to the high school and the Academy. The river was then twenty feet deep and flowing at least thirty miles an hour. The ferry began taking water as soon as it started over and began settling in midstream, where the current was the swiftest. When the up river side dipped, the passengers rushed to the opposite side. The railings gave way and everyone went into the river except one man who caught the guy rope attached to the cable. Rescue boats were quickly launched from both banks as passengers and ferry man were borne downstream, their cries for help piercing the air. Seven were lost, including the boatman. The river was dragged for ten days until all the bodies were recovered.
A coroner's jury decided that the boat was unfit for the use for which it was intended and was carelessly managed. Considerable bitterness and recrimination was aroused in the community. The city government accepted responsibility and made payments of one thousand dollars to the survivors of each person drowned, except for one boy's parents who refused to accept the money.
On February 8,1887 the Fox rose eight feet within a few hours. The recently erected Kimball Street bridge held the flow in check about the dam and probably prevented the Chicago Street bridge from going out again, although part of it washed away and downtown businesses suffered losses. Since this last major flood high waters on the Fox have caused little damage at Elgin. Later bridges-built much higher over the river and constructed of steel and concrete-are better able to withstand the pressures of high water. Extensive filling, which kept pace with rising land values, has raised the banks. A comparison of shore lines in 1914 with maps of 1850 showed the river to have been narrowed more than one hundred and fifty feet in the business district. More secure dams along the river have acted as breakers and tend to retain the water, allowing it to discharge gradually.
4. Elgin in 1885
On April 3, 1885 the fiftieth anniversary of the city's settlement was celebrated in the parlors of the Baptist Church. Abel and Harriet Gifford, brother and sister of the founder, were the honored guests. The survivors of the early days enjoyed a banquet and then exchanged recollections of the long ago. The half century had brought great changes, but even the Elgin of 1860 was unrecognizable. In twenty-five years the population had jumped five-fold to 13,984.
The growing population required additional wards. Five were created on the east side and two on the west side, a reflection of how the residents were distributed. The News commented:
The fact that Elgin is to elect 14 aldermen at the next city election is bound to agitate for years. Outside of the immeasurable glory the place confers, it brings to one more fun than almost any other public position procurable. Such a flood of opportunities has never been precipitated upon the politicians of this community, but it is quite safe to say that patriots will be found sufficient to meet all demands.7New structures were appearing everywhere this year. A sixth electric arc light tower was raised in Gifford Park. The Elgin Driving Park Association opened a half-mile track for harness racing on thirty-five acres of land in the southeast end. A third bridge was erected at Kimball Street. Angus M. Stewart's new building on Spring Street was the largest of several commercial structures completed downtown, and people marveled at the ten thousand dollar mansion David C. Cook was putting up at Gifford and Division Streets.
The city was busy from early morning, when scores of dairymen's wagons brought milk to the condenser and butter factory, to nine o'clock at night, when the stores closed. The Elgin National Watch Company, not even a dream in 1860, was now employing about two thousand. The Elgin Packing Company put up about 1,250,000 cans of corn this year, a record amount, and hired more than five hundred for work during and after the harvest. The Illinois Condensing Company contracted for 140,000 quarts of milk per week from May through September. The D. C. Cook Publishing Company was turning out Sunday School literature by the tons. In just two days this firm shipped 19,000 pounds of printed material. C. H. Woodruff & Company were adding to their foundry.
A sharp decline in the demand for cheese, however, was depressing the dairy industry. By the first of May most of the more than one hundred and seventy-five small creameries in the counties of Kane, DuPage, DeKalb, Boone, McHenry, and the northwest portion of Cook were making only butter. The weight of butter sold in 1885 on the Elgin Board of Trade was 7,490,004 pounds, and the weight of cheese, 3,850,273 pounds. Despite the decline of more than a third in the dollar value of total sales, the Board's secretary reported that frequently "the price paid for butter on the board governs the other butter markets of the country, notably so in the west, south, and southwest."8
The community was shocked in late March by the failure of Charles W. Gould, the largest Elgin-based creamery operator, who owned five factories at Wauconda, Wayne, Algonquin, Hanover, and Kingston and had a partnership in seven more. Their aggregate daily consumption was seventy-six thousand pounds of milk. His collapse was variously attributed to the long and severe winter, over-extension, and bogus butter.
The Board of Trade appointed a committee to lobby in Springfield for the passage of a bill to prohibit the sale and manufacture of oleo and butterine made and sold in imitation of pure butter. A law to this effect was already on the books, but it was not effective. The bill urged by the Elgin group passed the Senate but was defeated in the House. A House investigating committee subsequently reported that there was sufficient evidence of an attempt of bribery by the Elgin Board of Trade treasurer to justify his indictment. No legal action was taken, but more than one thousand dollars 'remained unaccounted for by the committee when they reported to the Board about their expenditures in the state capital.
After three years the roller skating craze was still going strong. A Grove Avenue rink was destroyed by fire in January, but its replacement, the Oriental, opened in March. The rock maple floor had an area of eleven thousand square feet. It was smooth, hard, and nearly noiseless. The rink accommodated one hundred skaters and five hundred spectators. The balcony over the entrance seated the bands which played for the waltzing skaters. A competitor, the People's Rink, was located on Chicago Street.
There were eight public schools, four of them with only one or two teachers. Some were operating on split shifts, and one was housed in a church. In addition to the Elgin Academy there were three other private schools-St. Mary's Academy, sponsored by the Catholics, and two schools operated by St. John's and St. Paul's, which gave instruction in both German and English.
Seemingly everybody in town "belonged" to some group. There were seventeen Elgin churches after the Christian Scientists organized late in the year. Seven of these churches were ethnic in origin. St. Paul's Evangelical, formed in 1875, and the Apostolic Christians, who first held meetings in 1881, joined St. John's Lutherans and the German Evangelical Association (now Faith United Methodist) in holding services in the German language. The Swedish Lutherans were organized in 1871, and the Norwegians and Danish Lutherans in 1882. A new church building on the west side, that of the Grace Methodists, was completed with a tower in 1885. The church had been organized three years earlier.
Besides the churches, Elgin residents supported more than two dozen organizations. Many of these were secret societies which combined ritual and mutual assistance. These included four lodges of Masons, five of the Odd Fellows, three of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, two of the Knights of Pythias, and a camp of Modem Woodmen. The Germans, Swiss, Irish, English and blacks had fraternal organizations of their own. The Women's Christian Temperance Union and the male Good Templars opposed the use of alcohol. Veterans of the Civil War reminisced at meetings of the Grand Army of the Republic post, which sponsored the annual Memorial Day observance. Young men trained with the Third Regiment, Illinois National Guard.
Fishing and boating enthusiasts of some means owned club houses. The Sans Souci Club and the Lakeside Park Club were based at Lake Geneva, and the Waltonian Pleasure Club at Fox Lake. There were three athletic organizations, including one for cricket players. Musicians found outlets for the talents in bands and choral groups, and those with intellectual interest listened to the reading of papers at sessions of the Elgin Scientific and Historical Society.
This year the library board finally yielded to the growing pressure and authorized the purchase of books in the German language. The Every Saturday objected that "this is America and that our library should be American. The Germans who come here or born and educated here, should conform to our ways and learn our language."9 The cry of the established against the outsider would reverberate through succeeding years. In time some descendants of the German immigrants would raise the alarm against incoming blacks and Hispanics. In 1885 the cry was -also directed at a religious group.
A militant Salvation Army came to town in August with a "blood and fire attack" on the forces of sin, proclaiming deliverance for the lost. The Army's methods were generally viewed as disgusting, vulgar, and a nuisance. Stones were thrown at their street meetings, and scoffers attempted disruptions by beating on tin pans and stove pipes. On Sunday the 23rd, ten members and five followers were arrested on Douglas Avenue for collecting a crowd who interfered with the passage of vehicles and pedestrians and frightened teams with tambourines. The women prisoners were locked up overnight in a room at the Waverly, then used as the calaboose, and the men were placed in cells. Although only one was fined, and that was paid by Mayor Willis, the arrests aroused public sympathy. Elgin may not have been completely bathed in the blood of the lamb as a result of the Army's warfare, but a young printer's devil for the Daily News - one of those arrested - left to attend the Salvationists' officers training school. His name was Edward J. Parker, and he would eventually rise to the rank of national commander.
5. Mayoral Capers and Courage
With the new functions undertaken by the city government, the actions of its chief executive became more significant. In 1875 state legislation gave the veto power to mayors of all Illinois cities, and the mayor was allowed to appoint personnel subject to the approval of the aldermen. Previously the Council had made the selection, one appointment in Elgin requiring fifty ballots before a tie resulted and the mayor was afforded the opportunity to use his deciding vote.
Although the city was firmly in the ranks of the Grand Old Party, national party affiliation was not a factor in success at the polls. The Advocate pointed to "the folly of making partisan nomination in local elections. It has been the experience in Elgin for years, and elsewhere almost universally, that such practice leads to disorganization of a dominant party ..."10
The new powers of appointment and veto led to an uproar that lasted throughout the term of Mayor Edwin F. Reeves, a Greenbacker elected in 1878 with a minority of the total vote cast among four candidates. A masonry contractor, Reeves had erected many local landmarks, including Gifford's Stone Cottage, the Academy, the first City Courthouse, and the Opera House. Upon assuming office Mayor Reeves refused to re-name John Powers to the post of city marshal, giving an unfounded accusation for a reason. The Council refused to confirm any replacement for Powers. In the ensuing squabble, the Mayor attempted On one occasion to have Powers arrested, and on another time Pushed him into a jail cell and locked the door. Reeves in turn was indicted by a grand jury for ignoring his duties. A crowded indignation meeting at the Opera House requested him to "resign the office which he has shamefully disgraced," and in the event of his refusal, recommended "proper legal measures be taken to test his sanity."11
Finally the Council passed an ordinance, vetoed by Reeves, and then enacted over his veto, that created a Committee on Police to make appointments and abolished the office of city marshal, renaming the position, "janitor of the council room and keeper of the city prison." The Committee then named Powers to the new position of janitor. Reeves denied the legality of the aldermen's action, but he was bounced out of the Mayor's chair at the next election.
The unique contribution of Edwin F. Reeves to the Elgin heritage, however, is neither his buildings nor his political difficulties. It is the 141-page book he wrote and published in 1891 entitled Christianity vs. Mohammedanism; Temperance vs. Prohibition; Wine vs. Opium and described in a local paper as "something different from anything else in the world."12 It was indeed. Reeves warned of a pitfall awaiting many who sought the true path of Christian faith, pointing out:
1. There is no hope for mankind except the examples of Jesus, who enjoined us to drink wine in remembrance of Him, and there is no revealed religion save His that blessed the wine cup.
2. When a person believes in Mohammedan abstinence from alcoholic beverages, he is to all intents and purposes a Mohammedan.
3. No one can be a Christian who rejects the teaching and example of Jesus or who believes in Mohammedan doctrine of prohibition.
4. Prohibition of the use of wine in Christian lands not only lowers the morals of the people but is destructive of the principles of constitutional liberty and Christian fidelity.
If the world has forgotten the logic of this ardent Elgin defender of the faith, there are those who still practice his interpretation of the Christian message.
On October 18, 1880 a special election was held to determine whether the city should adopt the general law for Illinois municipalities and thereby relinquish its special charter. The result was 481 to 29 in favor of the proposition. The mayor's term was extended from one year to two, and the office of city clerk was made elective. Previously only the mayor and city treasurer hadbeen chosen by the voters. The election of a city marshal and a street commissioner was optional under the general law. They were elected in Elgin in 1882, but in 1884 the Council decided to make them again appointive.
Fountain Square as it looked after the street cars began running in 1890. In the center of the picture is the lower portion of the electric arc light tower and in the background the Home National Bank building.
Two aldermen continued to be elected from each ward. They were therefore more responsive to local constituencies than the mayor, who was chosen by the city at large. In 1879 the liquor license was raised from two hundred and fifty to five hundred dollars. This "high license" method of regulation reduced their number of saloons from twenty-three to fifteen, but by 1884 the number had risen substantially and the income from licenses rose to more than twenty percent of the city's revenue. The possible loss or suspension of a high license aroused the holders' interest in city elections, and many Council members became unusually attentive to their complaints, especially when these involved the law enforcing activities of the mayor. "You may praise, you may flatter the aldermen, if you will," opined the Every Saturday, July 24, 1886, "but the scent of the brewery will hang to them still."
Two accompaniments of urban living, a water system and a hospital, required some mayoral courage to bring to fruition over the reluctance of the aldermen. As the city grew in size, concern arose over the water supply. Some wells became permeated by cesspool water and sewage, threatening an epidemic, and there were doubts about the availability of a sufficient reserve for fire fighting. A prolonged dispute ensued over the question of establishing a water works. Mayor Hank Willis favored the proposal, but the Council ducked the issue by submitting the question to the voters at a special election on February 25, 1886. Those opposed, including the president of the Elgin National Watch Company and several leading residents, cited the higher taxes required by the increased debt; the adequacy of private wells and natural springs in which many had a substantial investment; the presence of the mill races as a reserve water supply; and the greater need for schools. The clear-cut result of the referendum: "Against Water Works," 980; "For Water Works," 189.
Ignoring this expression of public opinion, Mayor Willis continued to advocate a water system. Then on September 14, 1886 the DuBois Opera House was destroyed by fire while the east side race was drained for mill repairs and the city pump was inoperative. "If last night's fire teaches any lesson at all," editorialized the News, "it is that Elgin needs fire protection," and the paper went on to excoriate those "miserly money bags who oppose all public improvements for fear of the paltry taxes they might be called upon to pay."13
Bonds for one hundred eighteen thousand dollars were authorized, and a Board of Water Commissioners, consisting of George P. Lord, William Hintze, and David F. Barclay, was appointed to supervise construction. A pumping station, built of stone, was located for the easy receipt of coal along the North Western tracks on the east bank of the Fox at the far north end of the city. It housed two large pumps, each with a capacity of one and a half million gallons a day, and six huge sand filters. A steel plate stand pipe, thirty feet in diameter and ninety-five feet tall, was erected on Spring Street. Its top was fully two hundred feet above the river, and the pressure could throw water to a great height for fire fighting. Water was drawn from the middle of the river, piped into a reservoir, filtered, pumped up the stand pipe, and then pressured through an initial thirteen miles of main. Service began in April, 1888.
When Hank Willis died many years later, a Council resolution acknowledged that "when in his judgment he was satisfied that the people were wrong, that their vote was against their own welfare and that of the community, he, then, the Mayor of our City, did not hesitate to disregard their voice and vote, nor to do what the needs of the community demanded, and to this independence, this daring to do what was right under adverse circumstances the City of Elgin owed its system of water works."14
The Elgin Woman's Club was organized in June 1887 and chose to establish a hospital for its benevolent work. Henry Sherman learned of the Club's intention, and in February 1888 donated a two-story house containing seven or eight rooms on the southeast comer of Charming and North Streets. The only conditions were that it was to be known as Sherman Hospital, that it recognize no creed or sect, and that if ultimately sold, the proceeds were to be used for hospital purposes.
Homeowners in the neighborhood protested, and a City Council health committee reported that the hospital "may become a nuisance in that neighborhood, dangerous and detrimental to health, and cause a serious depreciation of property in that vicinity."15 The report was followed by a Council resolution which Prohibited any hospital within city limits except under municipal control. Mayor Vincent S. Lovell vetoed the resolution: "The objections to the present location could be made against any site likely to be proposed ... I certainly trust that we shall not commit the grave error of putting ourselves on record in opposition to the establishment of an institution so much needed . . ."16 I The house was remodeled, Club members themselves scrubbing the floors and painting the walls. Sherman Hospital opened its doors in July 1888 and cared for thirty-six patients its first year.
Vin Lovell also clashed with the aldermen over their refusal to approve his appointments for city marshal, unacceptable to some liquor licensees, and superintendent of streets, a key figure in the patronage system. On the night of June 4, 1888, he resigned in disgust, declaring:
The law evidently contemplates that the legislative and executive branches should be kept separate, and the distinction should, I believe, be made still more marked than now, so that those whose duty it is to levy and apportion the taxes, and make the laws should have as little as possible to do with their expenditure and enforcement respectively. Responsibility would then in either case be readily fixed where it belongs ... "17Chosen by his fellow aldermen to occupy the vacated office was Arwin E. Price, a tall, muscular, cigar-smoking, clarion-voiced, hard-drinking champion of the "peepul." One of the most colorful characters ever to parade across the local political stage, he was elected mayor more times and defeated trying for the office on more occasions than any other man. A marble cutter by trade and of limited formal education, he was loved by many, a large portion of whom were champions of the freedom to imbibe, and detested by others, particularly church women.
Unlike his predecessor, Price enjoyed his romps at City Hall, and he attracted the support of many workingmen in the community where class lines were becoming more noticeable. When he announced his candidacy for mayor in 1889, one newspaper praised his record, "but it naturally disgusted the better class of our citizens to see the mayor of Elgin upon our streets and in our council chambers in a state of intoxication. No one questioned the honesty or good sense of Mr. Price when he was himself."18 Price won with a minority of the votes cast because a Prohibition candidate entered the race. Price received 1,334 votes, his chief opponent, 1,134, and the dry, 325.
Price was an early advocate of female suffrage ("My mother was a woman!")19 and the rights of labor, but his most consistent battle cry was public ownership of public utilities. In his first full administration, 1889-91, the city took over Bowen's street lighting system, purchased a dynamo, and began providing lighting for the city hall, parks, library, and hospital as well as streets. The opening of a new municipally owned cemetery on Bluff City Boulevard was especially gratifying to a maker of tombstones. In 1891 the Council, pushed by dry forces, raised the liquor license fee from five hundred dollars to one thousand dollars annually, only to have Price veto the ordinance.
The City Hall became a stage for high drama and low comedy. Some found in the Council proceedings their only source of entertainment. They were the poor man's theater, and a leading actor for years to come would be Arwin Price.
6. Immigrants and Others
Immigrants from foreign lands arrived in Elgin in a series of overlapping waves. Victims of famine, political and religious refugees, landless farmers, artisans whose skills became useless with industrialization, they sought to build new lives in an expanding city whose factories welcomed their labor. The English and Scotch, most of them farmers and some of them coming down from Canada, settled on the heels of Giffords and Kimballs. Readily assimilated, they were not singled out as foreign, a designation first applied to the Irish who came in the forties. They were followed by Germans, who began coming in large numbers in the fifties, and then by Scandinavians in the sixties. English and Swiss watchworkers; Canadians, both English and French speaking; and Jews fleeing the tyranny of imperial Russia contributed to the demographic mixture.
Beginning with the 1850 census, for more than sixty years one out of five Elgin residents was foreign bom. This was a higher ratio than in the United States as a whole, where the ratio was about one in seven. There was also a difference in composition. Measured by the population in 1900, more than three-fourths of Elgin's foreign born came from Germany, the United Kingdom, and Scandinavia; less than half of the nation's foreign born had emigrated from these areas. The city received proportionately far more Germans and fewer Irish among its immigrant arrivals than did Illinois and the nation. The preponderance of foreign born from northwestern Europe continued into the first decades of the twentieth century. Southern and eastern Europeans coming to American after 1890 did not reach Elgin in any appreciable numbers except for Hungarians.
For their new start in a land of opportunity, most of the immigrants paid a price in hardship and the difficulty of learning strange ways. Each of the major ethnic groups turned to their members for fellowship and help. Churches with services in their languages, fraternal orders, and mutual aid associations proliferated and added to the city's diversity. There was no foreign section in Elgin, the immigrants settling in all parts of the city, but there were some concentrations. Many Irish lived near the west side distillery, where many were employed. A table land stretching west of South State Street between South and Orange Streets was known as "Dutch Flats" because of the large number of German residents in the area. "Swede Hill" was located in the northeast end, and in 1900 more than three-fourths of the Norwegians were clustered in the neighborhood of their church on Griswold Street.
Owen Burke from County Limerick settled in Elgin as early as 1837, but the great influx of Irish immigrants arrived after the potato famine. Irish labor built the early rail lines, brought the Catholic faith to Elgin and swelled the ranks of the Democratic party. St. Mary's Academy was opened as a parochial school for girls in 1880, and the building of St. Mary's church in 1896-99, then the most costly church ever erected in the city, was a mark of their advancement over the years.
German-speaking Alsatians moved to Elgin about 1847; Sebastian Ranzenberger, who came in 1848, was the first German-born immigrant. He led an influx after the failure of the revolutions for 1848, and by 1870 Germans had overtaken the Irish as the City's most numerous ethnic group. A Kane County history published in 1878 likened their coming to a military advance:
The German immigration ... has become an irruption. Commencing on the shore of Lake Michigan, the ever increasing army has moved steadily westward in an unbroken phalanx, through Cook, Lake and DuPage Counties into Kane, with a few interruption.20The comparison was ironic because a chance to escape Prussian rule and army conscription were reasons many were crossing the ocean to seek a "neue Heimat." Hanover, Darmstadt, and Wurttemburg in western Germany provided many of the newcomers. Although Protestant states, they were allied with a defeated Austria in the Seven Weeks' War of 1866 with Prussia. As late as 1912 the Ackemann brothers from Hanover were proclaiming in one of their department store ads that "those who left their native land, their high spirits resenting the Prussian influence, were naturally the most hardy, courageous and determined ." 21
Handicapped by the language barrier, the Germans were often imposed upon and made the butt of "Dutch jokes." Their children attending public schools dreaded taking sausage from their lunch boxes because it was regarded as outlandish food by their native-born peers. Some of the German immigrants attempted a sharp break with the past, but the process of becoming "American" was trying. Most of them found a refuge in one of several German-language churches:
The founding of St. Joseph's church was a result of an increased number of German Catholics in the eighties who wanted a parish separate from the Irish who were dominant at St. Mary's. St. John's, St. Paul's and St. Joseph's provided parochial schools that combined instruction in German and English. St. John's school, formed in 1866, was the largest. A two-story building erected in 1884 accommodated an enrollment of one hundred and fifty.
By 1878 there were enough readers in German to support publication of the weekly Glocke. This newspaper gave way to Frank Kramer's Deutsche Zeitung, which started out as a Democratic campaign sheet in 1880. The Herold was founded by Otto May and Anton Schader in 1891 and published on Saturdays. Its sister, the Germania, was brought out in 1894 and issued on Wednesday. The Herold and Germania were Republican in sentiment. The first generation also formed German-speaking associations: the Concordia Society for music and dancing, which later merged with the Turnverein gymnasts; fraternal groups such as the Plattdeutsch Guild and Schwaben-Verein and Paul Lodge of the Odd Fellows; one organization for veterans of the Civil War and another for those of the Fatherland; a mutual benefit society; and the Walhalla singers.
The Germans dominated the cigar-making shops and ran more saloons than the Irish. They also produced beer in large quantities. Caspar Althen purchased an interest in a local brewery in 1868, bought out his partner in 1870 and then moved the works to a site just north of the old west side distillery. The original wooden buildings were replaced by brick structures in major renovations and additions, bringing eventual capacity to fifty thousand barrels a year. The business was incorporated in 1894 as the Elgin Eagle Brewing Company; the brand name was Adler Brau.
Much of the leadership was supplied by the Hanoverians. William H. C. Heideman and Henry Bierman were joint owners of one of the river mills, the latter elected alderman as early as 1866. The Rev. H. F. Fruechtenicht was pastor of St. John's 1875-1909. William Grote, born in the little village of Winzlar, arrived in America at the age of sixteen and headed west to the Bartlett area where he found employment as a farm hand. The following year he was joined by his parents, and together they purchased a farm. In 1871 he moved to Elgin, became a partner in a general merchandise business, and subsequently prospered as a real estate subdivider and builder. Grote's success encouraged more than three dozen Winzlar villagers to settle in Elgin over the years. William D. Ackemann from Winzlar arrived in 1873 and purchased Grote's store ten years later. He was followed by four brothers and two sisters. In 1895 the brothers opened a large new department store that provided everything from the cradle (infants' wear) to the grave (undertaking services). Another Hanoverian, August Scheele, also got his business training in Grote's store, and in 1883 established a grocery that became the city's largest and most innovative. F. William Seiger of Hanover was a major building contractor who erected some of the industrial buildings promoted by Grote.
In the biographical compilations sold by subscription beginning in the eighties, German inunigrants proudly recounted the reasons for their rising affluence:
Having the will and perseverance, he sought work of any kind, no matter how laborious, with only a knowledge of the general meaning of the word, 'work."22These values mixed well with the town's earlier heritage from New England and upstate New York. Although they may have had different views about the liquor question, Germans and Yankees shared a belief in the work ethic and a penchant for thrift and cleanliness. To this compound were added the similar attitudes of Scandinavians.
For he has been industrious, knowing and economical, making every day of his time and every dollar of capital, as he acquired it, tell to his advantage.23
He labored hard, and saved money... 24
The possibilities that America offers to her citizens he has utilized, and though he came to this country in limited circumstances he has worked his way upward.25
Only twenty Scandinavians were living in Elgin in 1860; by 1900 they were the city's second largest foreign-born group. There were enough Swedish immigrants in 1871 to form the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church. They secured a building from the Presbyterians that year, and in 1889 purchased the Brick Church of the Congregationalists. A summer school was conducted by the church to teach younger members the Swedish language and Bible history. Another Swedish group formed the Evangelical Covenant Church in 1890. Augustus Gustason was the first Swedish-born member of the City Council, elected in 1886, and of the Board of Education, elected in 1887.
Many of the Norwegians were named Rovelstad. Six Rovelstad brothers came to Elgin at various times from about 1870 to 1888. Their father was a prosperous farmer who owned large tracts of timber near Nordre Odalen, nestled in a valley about forty miles from Oslo. Five of the brothers entered the watch factory, where Erik worked thirty-four years and Theodore more than forty. Peder and Andrew in 1883 left to open a jewelry store. They also dealt in steamship tickets and financed transportation for many immigrants.
The Freja Society was formed in 1877 as a social, educational and musical organization uniting the Scandinavian nationalities. Nordens Soner (Sons of the North) was organized in 1904 for mutual assistance in times of sickness or death. In 1900 Elgin had nearly six hundred residents who were natives of Sweden and nearly two hundred natives of Norway. There were seventy-eight Danes.
A new wave of English immigrants arrived with the establishment of the watch factory. Coventry was a leading exporter of hand-finished precision watches in the middle of the nineteenth century. Skilled craftsmen in several shops made a watch, then disassembled it and distributed the parts to workers' homes for duplication. When the parts were returned, they were hand-fitted and assembled. This method of watchmaking suffered from competition with American mass production factories, and many of the displaced workers from Coventry found their way to Elgin. Some of them joined the Episcopal church, the American offspring of the Church of England. Others were dissenters who organized in 1882 a Gospel chapel, which dispensed with pastors and concentrated on Bible study, or who adhered to the Salvation Army. A lodge of the Sons of St. George, a fraternal and social organization, was formed in 1891. Only those bom south of the Tweed, their children and grandchildren, were eligible for membership. This provision excluded the Scots.
Most of the immigrants were Christians; a small minority were Jews who found in Elgin both freedom of religious belief and economic opportunity. The first arrivals were from Germany. Leopold Adler and his brother, Joseph, opened a clothing business about 1859. After the fall of Fort Sumter, the Adlers supervised the making of uniforms for the first Elgin volunteers to answer Lincoln's call. Joseph later moved to Arkansas, but Leopold remained and prospered despite two big fires in the downtown area which totally destroyed his stock.
Mrs. Leopold Adler, the former Rose Sheuerman, was one of the first group of officers of the Elgin Woman's Club and was active in the establishment of Sherman Hospital. Of their seven children, Max was graduated from Elgin High School in 1883. An accomplished violinist, he later played in concert halls here and abroad. Max Adler married Sophie Rosenwald, entered the employ of Sears, Roebuck & Company, retired as vice president and general manager, and donated the Adler Planetarium to the city of Chicago.
Among the most prominent of the German-born Jews residing in Elgin were Max C. Eppenstein and his brother, Solomon, who brought their Illinois Watch Case Company to the city in 1890.
Refugees from the pogroms of imperial Russia began to arrive in the eighties. Although they came from different parts of Russia, chiefly Lithuania, they all spoke Yiddish, a German dialect mixed with Hebrew and Polish. Several, like the Adlers, were clothiers. Others pushed fruit carts, pedaled tinware, or became junk dealers. The oldest family retail firm in Elgin in continuous operation is a clothing store established by Israel Brenner in 1885 and still carried on by his grandson. Although divided by area of origin and even by differences in religious practice, the Jews shared a common religious belief. There were a sufficient number in Elgin by 1889 to form the city's first synagogue. Most of the Russian Jews arrived impoverished, but their upward movement was rapid.
The Hungarians were another immigrant group from eastern Europe, the peak influx coming in 1907. A large number had lived in Oroshaza, a town about eighty miles southeast of Budapest. In Elgin they found construction jobs on the railroads and work at the Woodruff & Edwards foundry. Their presence was signaled in 1906 by the formation of the American Hungarian Association of Elgin and in 1911 by the purchase of a former Methodist building for meetings of the Hungarian Reformed Church. A parish school 'Was conducted in the Hungarian language until 1921.
Despite the churches and other associations the immigrants established to preserve Old World customs, their children were readily assimilated through neighborhood, school, and job experience." Though a large percentage of the members are of foreign parentage," announced the historian of Elgin High School's Class of '98, "we are all Americans."26 For them, if not their parents, Elgin was a city of opportunity and a place where they could be respected as individuals.
This was not true of some English-speaking, native-born Protestant Americans who had far less chance of rising in the social scale than the foreign-born. These were the former slaves and their children, whose ancestors had no choice in crossing the ocean. In 1882, when a black man was hired as a stone mason to work on a new bridge over Tyler Creek, he was the target of a thrown rock, and others on the job refused to work until he was dismissed. And in 1889, the year the Swedish Lutherans sold the African Methodists the church they were leaving for larger quarters, a black spokesman asked: "If the Negro has civil equality, why cannot he work in the watch factory, the condensing factory or publishing house? Until the colored man is given a chance to enter a remunerative employment, he is to an extent still a slave."27
During the last quarter of the 19th century, Elgin's expanding population, coupled with the comparatively little capital then needed for starting up a newspaper, made possible a profusion of weeklies and dailies. Many quickly disappeared in the intense competition, and only two publishing firms were consistently profitable. Since 1855, the weekly Gazette, under succession of owners, had been the city's leading paper. In 1874, it was absorbed by the Advocate, established by Stephen L. Taylor three years earlier. Of all Elgin newspapers, few were more widely read than the Advocate. Publication of this popular weekly continued until 1918.
The papers usually exaggerated the size of their circulation, mixed generous portions of opinion into their news articles, boosted Elgin and denigrated Aurora, and could not resist calling attention to errors in the competitors' pages while ignoring gross inaccuracies in their own. They were not above casting personal aspersions about their fellow newsmen. The extra-marital affairs of one editor were closely examined, and another was described as "a characterless crank, whose highest and in fact absorbing idea of journalism is piracy and blackmail."28
Their make-up was similar. Each bought "boiler plate" shipped from Chicago, which presented national and international news a day or two later. These metal plates also provided some of the editorials and features. Emphasis in local news was often placed upon back-fence gossip. Trivial police court cases were played up. Divorce suits, suicides and even charges of incest were detailed. Each paper had a watch factory column of notes about the comings and goings, birthdays, illnesses and engagements of members of Father Time's family. Interspersed in the columns were small advertisements, most of them local except for the abundant patent medicine copy.
Dailies first appeared in 1874. The Republic started as a campaign flyer and soon expired. In December, Dudley Randall came up from Aurora and issued the Daily Bluff City. All the work of gathering news, soliciting ads, setting type and running the press was done by Randall and a young assistant. It was originally a four-page, four-column paper about ten by twelve inches in size. The paper had repeated financial problems. At times, heartless creditors would seize the small main press and try to haul it over the Cook County line before repossession papers were served. In the interim, a "sixteenth sheet" would be issued to let subscribers know the paper still existed.
Randall abandoned the Bluff City to become editor of a new rival, the Elgin Daily News, whose first edition appeared June 17, 1876. It consisted of four one-foot columns to each page, and was printed on an improved cylinder press that cost twelve hundred dollars. Both papers sold for two cents per copy, with subscription rates ten cents per week or five dollars yearly. Within a year, Randall left to start the Daily Dud, a four-page penny paper which expired after a few weeks. One who knew him recalled Randall as "a genial, talented, generous man, who saw fair visions and dreamed bright dreams that were never to be attained or realized." His former employer, the Daily News, was less kind, referring to him on September 2, 1877, as a "professional liar" and claiming that "two beers will hire him at any time to do a dirty job."
The Daily News purchased the subscription list and good will of the Bluff City in 1878, but it soon had competition. In 1881, the weekly Advocate crowded the daily field by introducing the Evening Advocate. The Leader moved up from St. Charles was and subsequently renamed the Elgin Morning Frank. In March 1884, Will Doherty and Harry Hemmens took over the paper and issued it in the evening as the Elgin Daily Courier.
Adam Hilton Lowrie left a professorship at Adrian College in Michigan in 1882 to purchase the weekly Advocate, and in September 1883, he bought the News, continuing both publications but consolidating them in one firm. The Evening Advocate, however, was dropped. Willis L. Black, the firm's cashier and accountant, purchased an interest in the enterprise in 1887, and the firm became the partnership of Lowrie and Black.
The merger enabled the News to outdistance the Courier. At the time of the consolidation, the Lowrie papers were printed on a cylinder press at the rate of one thousand to twelve hundred per hour and within a year the capacity was further increased by a two-revolution cylinder. In 1891 an improved press was installed which printed both sides of an eight-page paper at the same time. The new machine cut the paper, inserted inside sheets, and folded them at the rate of thirty-five hundred to forty-five hundred per hour. The Courier continued to be printed on an old flatbed press with all handset composition until 1903. Early in 1895, the News and Advocate moved into new quarters on the southwest comer of Spring and DuPage streets, the first Elgin building designed explicitly for newspaper purposes. The press room was in the basement, business and advertising departments on the first floor, newsroom on the second floor and composing room on the third.
The majority of the dailies' readers lived in Elgin. Outlying subscribers preferred the Advocate or the Weekly Courier, which reprinted main stories from the dailies with which they were associated. The weeklies also had columns of village news supplied by correspondents. A third weekly, the Elgin Every Saturday, emphasized social events. It was published by John K. LeBaron from 1884 until 1899, when it merged with the Courier.
The papers spared few adjectives in criticizing the failures of elected officials on all levels. "There was a time when to be a state legislator meant something honorable," opined the Every Saturday. "So many men filling the office of late have so disgraced it that the term commands no respect. A legislator-an Illinois legislator-is looked up to as much as is the scum on the stagnant pond."29 The district's congressman was accused by the Advocate of "a wanton disregard for truth; a complete lack of manly ardor."30 The Advocate also directed an attack at an Elgin justice of the peace who had reportedly hid under a sofa to escape a police raid on a disorderly house in Chicago: "The fellow is a gambler, beat, pimp and drunkard. He is a moral leper and a mental imbecile. He is decayed from the effects of debauchery. He is incapable of comprehending, not to mention practicing, average decency or passable morality."31
And about Mayor Arwin Price, a tempting target of long standing, the Evening Saturday asked, " Why should the poor unfortunate vagrants be dragged through the streets to the lockup every time they get a little intoxicated, while the mayor of Elgin is permitted to reel about town unmolested?"32 Price had his innings, too. He once choked and beat a Courier reporter to "fix him so he couldn't write anything for a week."33
All the major Elgin papers were Republican, and their proprietors were frequently awarded patronage plums. A. J. Joslyn and Frank Gilbert of the Gazette, John K. LeBaron of the Every Saturday and Harry D. Hernmens of the Daily Courier, were appointed postmasters. A. H. Lowrie of the News and Advocate served as U. S. Consul to Freiburg, Germany. His biographical sketch in a county history recorded that "he has done active work in every presidential campaign since the Republican Party has come into existence."34
The lives of opposite party or "independent" organs were precarious. The Times, for example, was sold at a sheriff's auction in 1878. The Democrat went bankrupt in 1893 and was again turned over to mortgagees four years later. Only the German language Deutsche-Zeitung, started as a Democratic campaign sheet in 1880, and the Dial, published variously as a weekly, morning and evening paper beginning in 1892, had more than a fleeting history.
8. Urban Recreation
The growing population attracted traveling road companies, and the Opera House, opened in 1872, provided a stage. A great favorite was Whitely's dramatic troupe, which came for a three day stand year after year, presenting such melodramas as The Octoroon, East Lynn, and Under the Gaslight. Great names of the American theater appeared, too, among them Otis Skinner, Edwin Booth, Julia Marlow, E. H. Sothem, Sol Smith Russell, James O'Neill, Minnie Maddem Fiske, and Lotta Crabtree. Some Performances exceeded the bounds of propriety. "A can-can troupe appeared here on Thursday night for the purpose of giving an exhibition," reported the Advocate, "but City Marshal Powers vetoed the performance."35
Not all the bookings were appreciated. One review verbally tore apart a perennial visitor. "The antique drama, Uncle Tom's Cabin, has been drawn and quartered in Elgin. The last slaughter was by all odds the most ruthless we have ever been called upon to witness." It went on to describe the performance as "a baldheaded farce" and suggested that "the participants should rejoice and be glad that a good-tempered and forgiving audience allowed them to go back to Chicago without coffin accompaniment."36
One show in 1887 opened almost an hour late and had no semblance of organization. The audience became boisterous, roaring threats and catcalls. After the final curtain, a crowd of men and boys gathered in front of the theater, demanding refunds. Police had to guard the exits to protect members of the company.
The patrons were a hardy breed. "The gallery of the opera house may be closed in the future," predicted the News on October 13, 1888, "on account of young hoodlums expectorating into the parquet circle."
More than plays occupied the stage. There were minstrel shows, marathon walkers, magicians and mind readers. Music lovers enjoyed concerts by the famed bands of Patrick Gilmore and John Philip Sousa and the Chicago Symphony under Theodore Thomas. Now and then there was even an opera. The Opera House was also a town hall for political meetings. Elgin had an opportunity to hear nationally known lecturers, such as the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, Robert G. Ingersoll, Susan B. Anthony and Frances E. Willard.
Despite the long working day, there was time for recreation in the form of dances, ice and roller skating, sleigh rides, traveling exhibits and circuses. Steamboat rides on the Fox River were enjoyed in the late '80's and early '90's. The Dauntless, capable of eight miles per hour, chugged pleasure parties south to Gypsy Island and offered moonlight excursions. The Britomart, whose name was later changed to City of Elgin, carried up to sixty passengers from the dam northward to Trout Park.
The lagoon and band stand in Lords Park about 1908. In the right background is the pavilion.
Those seeking forbidden pleasures could find them in nearby Hanover Township, outside the city limits, where vice and liquor laws could not be effectively enforced by scattered constables and the distant Cook County sheriff's office. A beer garden which opened in 1878, for example, sold liquor on Sunday-at that time a violation of state law. There were other attractions, alluded to in a comment about "one of the soiled doves from the Cook County 'seminary' just east of the city."37 The place was listed in the 1880 census as a hotel with a bartender and women boarders.
One of the most popular of these resorts was opened by John Buckrice in 1883. It stood well back on the north side of the Villa Street road to Chicago, just across Poplar Creek. The large two story frame building was reported to have cost eighteen thousand dollars, and the bar alone was said to represent an investment of' one thousand dollars. A nearby race track and a planked outdoor bowling alley were additional facilities. Those who over indulged could rest assured that Elgin livery horses could run out to Buckrice's and home again without much guidance.
A unique woodland containing flora which tolerated alkaline soil lay north of the city between the river and the road to Dundee. Watered by numerous springs, the area survives from a time after the last glacier left-when northern trees such as the arbor vitae covered most of this part of Illinois. Originally called the "cedar swamp," a fish hatchery was later developed here, and the area became known as Trout Park. The section near the river along the North Western tracks became a beer garden and picnic ground in the '70s. Excursion trains hauled unions, fraternal organizations, Sunday schools and other groups out from Chicago. There were frequent disturbances, but the local police had no jurisdiction.
The most notorious of the Trout Park carousals came on a Sunday in June 1895, when more than two thousand Chicago pressmen and press feeders arrived in thirty-one heavily loaded coaches with baggage cars stocked with beer. Among the visitors were a disreputable element, including "abandoned women," who had taken advantage of the low excursion rates. The day passed quietly until about four in the afternoon, when many had become inebriated. Fights were started to draw a crowd to be worked by pickpockets. Pistol shots rang out. Hoodlums, feigning drunkenness, would surround a victim, set upon him, and take his watch, cash and other valuables. Those who resisted were beaten with bottles and revolvers. At least one hundred were said to have been robbed before the last return train departed. "Over the gate at Pratt's Trout Park should be inscribed, 'Leave all hope behind all ye who enter here,' " advised the Every Saturday. "Decency was openly violated, the Sabbath was wantonly desecrated, and Elgin was publicly disgraced."38
The availability of Trout Park probably delayed the acquisition of green space, and the city's first big public park had to come by donation. George P. Lord had been business manager of the watch factory and then prospered in dairy farm operations and real estate investments. He served a term as mayor from 1879-80, and was president of the Board of Education, 1884-89. Seventy years old and a widower, he married in 1889 a widow, Mrs. Mary Edwards Carpenter. Her first husband, J. A. Carpenter, had left her a fortune in land and corporate securities, including stock in the First National Bank of Elgin and the Illinois Iron and Bolt Company of Carpentersville. George and Mary Lord, devoutly religious and bereft of children, believed their wealth should be used to enrich the lives of their fellow citizens.
In 1889, a syndicate of real estate developers purchased the farm of Dr. Joseph Tefft adjoining the city to the east in Cook County. A fifty-acre portion, known as the Willow Creek Woods, was offered to the city for a park at less than cost-ten thousand dollars. The city was reluctant to take any action, and at a referendum in the spring of 1892, voters repudiated the offer by a vote of 1,414 to 521.
If the city government was timid and the citizenry shortsighted, the Lords were not. In October 1892, they bought the property for sixteen thousand dollars and presented it to the city of Elgin. They subsequently added expensive parcels in 1893 and 1895. Perhaps with Trout Park in mind, the grants stipulated the prohibition of alcoholic beverages on the premises. Using ideas gathered in European travel, George P. Lord supervised development of the new park. By the end of the century, the acreage had been improved by two lagoons, formed by damming up Willow Creek, a spacious pavilion, picturesque drives and walks, pits for bears and smaller animals, a large enclosure in the wooded portion for deer, goats, peacocks and other fancy fowls with a suitable winter quarters to house them, a building with glass slides for eagles and buzzards, an electrically lighted band stand, and a shelter house at the Forest Avenue entrance.
Speaking at the dedication of the pavilion in 1898, George Lord explained the importance of a city park:
City life is a constant strain upon the nervous system, impairing its force and injuring the health of the People. The park is designed for a public resting place, a place to which the people may resort for pleasure, rest and recreation. From this standpoint wh o can estimate its value, or ha ve a just conception of the beauties that may be derived from frequent and prolonged visits to its cool and refreshing retreats?39
9. The Rise of Sport
Farming had provided abundant exercise in the course of earning a living; indoor factory work-mostly sedentary at the watch factory-stimulated an interest in sports. Baseball came to Elgin soon after the Civil War, and quickly gained popularity among players on both organized and impromptu nines. The Bluff City club charged admissions, played for side money with teams from other towns and claimed the state amateur championship in 1875 after defeating Bloomington in a game played in Chicago. Charles Comiskey, who would be named to the sport's Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York, pitched part of one season for the Bluff Citys.
Organized harness racing began in 1870 with the opening of a track on the fairgrounds of the Elgin Agricultural Society. In addition to exhibits of livestock breeders, agricultural implement dealers, farmers and fruit growers, there were one-mile events for both trotters and pacers. The Elgin Driving Park Association sponsored meets on dates other than the annual agricultural fair. When the site was moved to a new half-mile track in the southeast end, thirty to forty horses of local owners were quartered at the park's stalls all year, and there were at times more than one hundred during the racing season. The meets attracted entries from a wide circuit with purses ranging from three hundred dollars up to one thousand dollars. Gambling was rife at the track pools and in the saloons, and there were frequent charges of collusion among the owners and drivers.
"High wheeler" bicycles first attracted attention in Elgin in 1879, when a local sales agency opened. To clamber up to the seat seemed like getting astride a giraffe. "These velocipedes have been the cause of several broken limbs," complained one newspaper, "and if we don't hear of some more soon, we will be surprised. It is unsafe for pedestrians to pass on the sidewalks at times during the day."40 When they took to the streets, the Advocate was not mollified: "Drivers of skittish horses are beginning to protest against the bicycle riders, who appear on our streets, and are of the opinion that some restrictions should be placed upon them."41
The popularity of the bicycle did not become widespread until the "safety," with both wheels the same size, was introduced locally in 1888, and interest broadened with the arrival in town of the first pneumatic tires three years later. The craze for wheels put to shade the previous roller skating fad, and watch factory officials feared that bicycle sales would cut into the demand for watches. Riding clubs organized races and tours. Members of one club wore tight-fitting blue flannel shirts with knee pants of the same material, skull caps and gray stockings.
It wasn't long before Elgin firms began producing bicycles. First to enter the field was the C. H. Woodruff Company, which made and sold more than two hundred in the summer of 1895. Its "Elgin" and "Lady Elgin" models sold for one hundred dollars. The same year, the Illinois Watch Case Company erected a two story addition to its Dundee Avenue plant for their Elgin Cycle Company subsidiary. King Park, a test track, was developed in the rear of the plant. The first models were available for exhibit at the Chicago Cycle Show in January, 1896. Highlighting its display was a $10,000 tandem, decorated with diamonds and solid gold ornaments. It won a prize and was sent on a publicity tour. Regular models included the "Elgin King" and "Elgin Queen."
The Elgin Sewing Machine and Bicycle Company moved in August 1895 from Arlington Heights to the vacant south end plant built for the Dickie label works. This firm offered fluted tubing, giving it a corrugated appearance and supposedly increasing its strength. Orders reached the factory faster than they could be filled. Production had increased to seventy-five wheels a day when shortly after 1 a.m., May 25, 1896, the factory was ripped by a cyclone. The twister tore apart the main structure to within three feet of the ground. Only the battered office tower remained standing. Most of its contracts could not be filled, and although the factory was rebuilt, the cancellations following the disaster started the firm on the road to bankruptcy.
By the end of the decade, interest among adults was ebbing and the foundry and case plant were writing off losing ventures. "Not one wheel is nowadays seen," commented the Courier on July 21, 1903, "where two or three years ago, ten were in use."
The early bowling alleys were dingy places connected with saloons and billiard parlors or located near them. The keglers used wooden balls, and pins were set by hand. At Buckrice's, the alley was warped in spots, and there was a trick to throwing the huge hole-less balls with sufficient speed and twist to stay on the boards until they reached the pins. Around the turn of the century, a "craze" for bowling swept Elgin, and the sport gained respectability with the opening of alleys in the prestigious Century Club and YMCA and the organization of a watch factory league.
Tennis started out with a better reputation than bowling, but did not gain as many participants. A club was organized in 1888. The courts were originally located on the insane asylum property and were later transferred to the Academy grounds.
The Academy and the high school lined up for the first local interscholastic football game in 1891. The early games were based primarily on strength and weight. There was no forward pass, and plays emphasized the flying wedge. If a player was hurt, he was revived and left in the game, because there were few substitutes available. The Elgin and East Aurora high schools began their long rivalry in 1893, and spectator interest was sufficient to experiment with a night game under arc lights at King Park in 1898.
The first local Young Men's Christian Association, formed in 1866, distributed
religious tracts, sponsored outdoor preaching on the square, held prayer
meetings and promoted mission Sunday schools among those who didn't attend
church. Disbanded seven years later, it was reorganized in 1882 with the
financial backing of George P. Lord. A summer swimming pool with dressing
rooms and a spring board was constructed along the river. Expanded quarters
in 1895 included a reading room with more than six hundred volumes and
a collection of fine paintings. Of greater interest to the members was
a large gymnasium and the opportunity to play a new game. Basketball had
been devised in 1891 by James A. Naismith, an instructor at the International
Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. Introduced in Elgin at a
state "Y" convention in 1893, the game, which then allowed each team nine
men on the floor, was the beginning of the city's long fascination with
Town in the West
II The Dividing Line
III Watches, Milk and Butter
IV The Expanding City
V Boom and Panic
VI The Good Years
VII Whirling Twenties
VIII Depression and War
IX Civic Pride
X Modern Elgin
Town in the West
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