Batavia was once known as “Windmill City”

For anyone fascinated with the history of windmills, a visit to Batavia, Illinois might be in mind. Along their river walk, visitors can see several variations of windmills, many built right there in the city. At one time, Batavia had six windmill companies that produced hundreds of windmills each year.

Windmills were in production from 1863-1951. These companies included the U.S. Wind Engine Pump Company, Challenge Company, Benjamin Danforth, Batavia Wind Mill Company, Appleton Manufacturing Company and Snow Manufacturing Company manufactured windmills thus the name Windmill City stuck. Three of the buildings that produced windmills are still operational the U.S. Wind Engine Pump Company and the Challenge Wind Mill and Feed Mill Company. These are now in use as offices or for commercial business while the Appleton Manufacturing Company is now home of the Batavia Government Center.

As part of the bringing windmills back to Batavia sponsored by the Batavia Historical Society, today visitors can view 18 windmills including 15 that were built in Batavia including a rare Pearl Steel model that was produced by the Batavia Wind Mill company. For visitors that want to see several windmills at one time, many are located at the Batavia Riverwalk including a two Challenge OKs, Challenge Dandy, Pearl Steel, Challenge 27, Challenge Steel Appleton Goodhue Power 4, Challenge Vaneless Model 1913 and the U.S. Halladay Vaneless. For more information about the windmills, log onto the websitehttp://www.bataviahistoricalsociety.org/wmills.htm.

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Cool Salesman Sample shares a bit of truck history

DSC00709The Batavia Body Company was a company that rose out of the Newton Wagon Company, was part of Emerson Brantingham and then was plucked off into its own entity by the local citizens of Batavia. A sample of one of the refrigerated body trucks they built was on display at the Batavia Depot Museum.

The salesman sample was used when salesmen went from place to place showing an example of what they were selling. This was no small item, even though it wasn’t he size of a truck, it would have still been quite bulky to carry and show.

I love the history that is intertwined in this company that was once the windmill industry capitol of the US.

The Newton Wagon Company began in 1852 as the Newton Wagon Works in Alexander, New York (or Attica, I read that it was located in both places). The company was founded by Levi Newton in 1838. Newton started out as a cabinet maker then moved onto woodworking and wagon making. After a fire destroyed his factory Newton decided to move his family to Batavia where wagons had sold well over the years.

The Newtons built a shop along the Fox River to make farm wagons which became a very successful endeavor. They made seventy-two wagons the first year, and by 1887 they were one of the largest farm wagon companies in the US making 5,000 farm wagons a year.

The Newton family sold the company to Rockford, Illinois based Emerson Brantingham Company according to the Batavia Historical Society in 1916, although some accounts mention 1912. The Batavia Historical Society also stated that Emerson Brantingham Company who was known for their agricultural implements expanded after the purchase to make automobile bodies and fenders!

When the Depression came and Emerson Brantingham was bought by J.I. Case, they no longer wanted the wagon portion of the business so local Batavian stock holders took over the wagon portion which became the Batavia Wagon Company/ Batavia Body Company. They soon became engaged in the building wagons for the hauling of milk. They were cooled by cake ice and insulated with cork.

The Batavia Wagon Company moved into refrigeration and built a variety of refrigerated trucks for a long run. In 1955, the company was purchased by the American Gage and Machine Company of Elgin and continued manufacturing refrigerated truck bodies. The Batavia Body Company ceased operations on June 29, 1973. Sadly like so many iconic historic buildings these were razed to make room for a strip mall.

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Mary Todd Lincoln links in Batavia

Living in Springfield, Illinois, the Lincoln connections are common. I am always surprised when traveling outside of Springfield and finding Lincoln history in unexpected places like the Batavia Depot Museum.

My mom and I had headed to the Chicago suburbs for a play and a bit of browsing in little shops and I hoped learning a little history. The first exhibit in the depot brought home a sad chapter in Mary Todd Lincoln’s life, her tenure at Bellevue Place after a Chicago jury pronounced her insane in 1875.

A display at the museum offers a view of Mary’s bed and dresser from the room where she stayed in Bellvue.

The Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd accompanied Mary to Bellevue on May 20, 1875. She was able to go out and had a horse and carriage at her disposal. The location had been a lovely school so while it was an impressive place, Mary Todd Lincoln still was not a happy camper about her confinement.

The brochure I picked up on Bellevue said that Mary receive many visitors and that they received many letters not happy with her confinement. Although the brochure says, “Dr. Patterson and Robert did not think she was well enough, but in the end, they gave in to public pressure and on September 11, 1875, Mary went by train to Chicago and Robert escorted her to Springfield to her sister.”

Today Bellvue is comprised of townhouses but is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Batavia Depot Museum http://www.bataviahistoricalsociety.org/depot_museum.htm was quite a fascinating place with history on the windmill industry and other history that kept us content to browse for a time!

The bed that Mary Todd Lincoln slept I at Bellevue.

The bed that Mary Todd Lincoln slept I at Bellevue.

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Bradley Tractors return to Ross Carrier Plant for a reunion

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I felt a little like Timmy in a “Lassie Come Home” show when we drove up to Benton Harbor, Michigan on June 26th, 2014 and brought our Bradley tractor along with a few other collectors back home to the Ross Carrier plant where they were built.

We were part of a group of collectors on our way to their annual show as part of the group that gathers each year to celebrate tractors sold through the Sears Catalog. This includes Graham Bradleys, Sears Economy and Thrifty Farmer tractors. The group was heading to the Gilmore Car museum for the 35th Annual Antique Tractor, Engine and Machinery Show, sponsored by the Kalamazoo Antique Tractor, Engine and Machinery Club. The late Joe Harvath set plans in motion for the tractors to be featured along with Averys at this show. His widow Pat served as hostess for the collectors that headed to Kalamazoo.

Along the way we took advantage of an opportunity to take our pictures in front of the former Ross Carrier Plant now owned by Dave Kirshenbaum, who gave us permission to make the stop. Our thanks goes out to Dave for allowing us to park in front of his historic building!

What made this stop even sweeter was that James Fred, editor of the Graham Bradley and other Sears sold tractors convinced Tom Parrett, grandson of Dent Parrett, the designer of the Bradley tractor to come to town for the photo op.
Tom Parrett remembered working in the plant as a young man in the early 1970’s. The Bradley tractors were built as early as 1930 and were just one of the tractors that Dent Parrett had a hand in.

Keep on the lookout for more details in my column “Wrenching Tales” coming up in a future issue of Farm World.

The day was the culmination of a dream for several collectors that made their way along to the Ross Carrier plant to reminisce and like Lassie, “Come Home”.

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A bumpy ride

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Our Thrifty Farmer offers a bumpy ride. Thoughts of traveling or working with iron wheels makes me appreciate todays travel mode. As beautiful as our Thrifty Farmer is, I am glad travel and farming today is on rubber!

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Cool Tractors at this year’s Historic Days Show in Penfield, IL

I arrived on opening day at the Historic Days Show in Penfield, IL. The first day is always my favorite because it is not too crowded and collectors often have time to talk and share information about their great machinery. If there was ever a year of great machinery, this one was it. The 2014 show highlighted tractors that were part of John Harvey’s Classic Tractor Fever. Tractors that have appeared on calendars over the past 25 years, plus a great array of Versatile and Ford and New Holland, plus amazing other brands were onsite.

One of my favorites right off the bat was Dan Magness’s 1949 Field Marshall Tractor that has the nickname the “Shotgun tractor” he said because “It started with blank cartridges, a shotgun shell.”

At this show I saw tractors I have never seen before like one made by the Saukville Company out of Wisconsin. The owner Jerry Long said that it was developed by retired Allis Chalmers workers and after hearing that it is easy to see a bit of an AC G in the design.

There were various sizes of Versatile tractors and even a couple of the Randall Brothers BIG tractors on hand.

Another favorite at the show was the 1918 Massey Harris #2 owned by Tom and Mary Jansen. I also quite adored the 1949 NTX Jeep owned by Cheryl Delap editor of the Praire Gold Rush.

These were just a few of the things the show had to offer. If you are reading this and still have time to make the show, it runs July 10-13, 2014, if not, check out the website http://www.antiquefarm.org/ and put it on your calendar for next year!

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A ride in a dory and a visit to a dory museum!

A ride in a dory was one of the things I had never done before visiting Shelburne, Nova Scotia. Paul Gart, boat builder and Milford Buchanan offered travel writers visiting the south shore of Nova Scotia a spin in a dory. It is amazing how small the boat is and how tiny you feel out in the ocean. It is hard to imagine being a fisherman out in the middle of the sea buffeted by waves and maintaining control!
But fishermen did it day in and day out because; a dory was the workhorse of the fishery Milford said. The day after our ride in the dory, we visited The Dory Shop and learned how to build a traditional dory and we listened to stories of how they were used to harvest fish from the Atlantic.
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The dory shop was built by John Williams in 1880 and guide Leona Ringer said the shop was one of seven booming businesses in Shelburne that produced thousands of dories for both Canadian and American fishing schooners during the years of the famous Grand Banks fishery (1880 – 1971). “Dories were made from pine and stacked on schooners,” Leona explained.

There were 12 shipyards she added saying the ship builders used oxen to launch the boats and to pull tree roots out of the ground that were used in the boat building process. Leona showed examples of boats to visitors touring the museum that were made by the late Sidney Mahoney who worked at the dory shop for most of his adult life. Sidney was such an icon that a statue of him has been created and remains in the museum. Before the development of the dory clip by Isaac Crowell builders were forced to use curved wood like tree trunks for dory frames. Leona pointed out one dory that Sidney built from apple tree roots. “He had to steam the frame. He built this one at his home after church on Sunday.”

Before dory and trawls were used for fishing, fishermen would fish the banks from the decks of schooners, using baited hooks and hand lines to collect their catch. Leona added, “Realizing they could improve upon this method, crews started hanging lots of hooks off one long line along the ocean floor, where hungry cod and haddock loved to feed. The idea worked and trawl fishing was born. Dory fishing came from the realization that crews could haul in even more fish if the men could spread out to cover more ocean. By piling a bunch of little boats onto the schooner and then carrying them out to the banks, crews were able to split up and maximize their efforts. When combined, the two new methods created a fishing technology that dominated the banks fishery until the 1940s.”

Leona said dories were set out around the schooner much like the spokes in a bicycle, they went a mile out. When in danger, the fishermen would use their fog horn.

The guides that share information with visitors at the dory shop have grown up on the water. Leona Ringer has a unique past; she actually grew up on a lighthouse. “Gull Rock was the last one. My father and grandfather were both light keepers. I wanted to be one. I and my two brothers grew up there, there was no one but us, and we kept ourselves busy. When we reached school age, we moved ashore and would go back and forth.”

Milford Buchanan shared details about how each dory is built and showed us how to build a very cool whirligig as well! He said each dory is different and Milford is still building dories today. “These were throw-away boats; they were the backbone of the fishery.”

Dories were used from 1880-1971 when fiberglass took over Leona said, explaining how the workhorse of the fishing fleet came to an end. “In 1983, we opened our museum. Prince Charles and Lady Di were here.”

To learn more about farming the sea in a dory, log onto the website at https://doryshop.novascotia.ca/about.

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A ride on the Brown Eyed Girl!

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One of the highlights of my visit in Nova Scotia was a ride on Captain Ken and First Mate Sherri Taylor’s 44-foot Marine Trader trawler. As part of a group of travel writers that came to see the beauty of Nova Scotia’s south shore, there was no better way to revel in the beautiful Atlantic Coast that a sunset cruise with a lobster dinner!

Captain Ken showed us how to catch lobster and cooked it on the boat and they served it up with Sherri’s famous potato salad, melted butter and a roll. Captain Ken’s granddaughter helped serve the meal and we were serenaded by the wonderful music of locals Bruce Reid and Mike Elliott.

This was my first time eating a whole lobster and cracking it. Janette Farnall Wallace, our guide from the Nova Scotia tourism bureau showed me how to tackle the chore and I must say lobster never tasted so good!

Sherri took the time to point out the sites around the Shelburne Harbour and historic waterfront. 3rd while Ken cruised. The couple has started offering Sunday evening sunset cruises. Usually three cruises are offered a day. Log onto http://www.shelburneharbourboattours.com for details!

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Cooper’s Inn Bed & Breakfast

The Cooper’s Inn Bed and Breakfast is a perfect stay in Shelburne reflecting the history of this coastal town. Built in 1784 just one year after the original Loyalists arrived, I loved the feel of the Inn located across the street from the ocean and right in the heart of the historic section of town.

The website http://www.thecoopersinn.com/index.html for the B&B states that the home was built in the aftermath of the American Revolution, as pro-British refugees flooded into Shelburne. Built originally as a vertical log structure it served as both store and home to a blind man, named George Gracie. “In 1785 Gracie was a refugee merchant from Boston and was to become one of two representatives of Shelburne County in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly.”

The inn offers 7 rooms and 1 elegant suite that I was blessed to stay in. Inn owner Pate Dewar said she was a travel agent before she married an innkeeper and went from “making reservations to taking reservations.”

Now divorced Pat and friend Melanie helps run this wonderful piece of history. Pat says, “We offer quality accommodations with private ensuite baths and harbour views.”
Late afternoon cocktails are available and it is very pleasant to sit and chat in the garden. Being from land locked Illinois knowing the ocean is just right outside the door is an amazing feeling. Breakfast was quite wonderful and fortifying enough for a busy day. While the food was amazing, I am still in awe of the juice Pat made with cranberry on bottom and orange on top, pretty and good!

I ate early then headed out to see Shelburne wake up, quite a treat and the Cooper’s Inn is part of the history that makes up the fabric of this Oceanside town.

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Shelburne, a historic loyalist town and the Ross-Thomson House

With the 4th of July in the rear view mirror, stateside we just celebrated Independence Day, but have you ever wondered what happened to those living in New England that supported King George and the English troops? It is hard to imagine what it would have been like to keep living in the area after the war ended, so I was fascinated when I visited the town of Shelburne, Nova Scotia on a travel writer trip and learned that some of the pro-British refugees left New York and settled in Canada.

In 1783, four hundred families arrived and named the town on the south shore of Nova Scotia Port Roseway. The refugees arrived with the promise of free land, tools and provisions. Later the town was named in honor of the English Prime Minister, Lord Shelburne. According to the walking tour map, “Within a year, the Town mushroomed to a population of 10,000. The region however, could not support so large a settlement, and most of the refugees moved back to England or to other parts or the province or to New Brunswick while others returned to the United States.”
The coastline of Shelburne is amazing with the largest collection of pre-1800 buildings anywhere in Canada. A walking tour includes sights like the Shelburne County Museum, Ross Thomson House &Store, the J.C. Williams Dory Shop, several houses shipyards and more.

A visit to the Ross Thomson House and Store offered insight into life in Shelburne in the late 1700’s. Our guide, Sheila Fekas has been a volunteer at the house for 24 years. While showing us around the house we learned that the Ross-Thomas House is the only original store building remaining in Shelburne.

In this house, the Ross Brothers, George and Robert traded internationally in tea, coffee, rum, port and wine. The store served as a general store for the locals. The Ross Brothers were born in Scotland came to America and settled in Shelburne where they traded the areas pine planks, codfish, ship’s knees, spars and picked herring.
The Ross Brothers hired Robert Thomson as their clerk and he married and had six children. Thomson sailed ships while, George Ross stayed at home and ran the business. The Thomson family shared the home with George Ross who eventually sold it to Dorcas Thomson, Robert’s wife.

When the government in 1787 quit distributing food, settlers of Shelburne found it hard to survive because although the harbor was full of fish, the land did not easily provide for the population of the area and soon houses were up for sale and the town dwindled to a population of around 300.

The town offers an amazing history about the Revolutionary War that American’s truly don’t know. I enjoyed walking the area and seeing the distinct beauty of the pre-1800’s buildings and coastal influence.

Shelburne was the setting of the 1994 movie The Scarlet Letter and today there is part of the remaining movie set. During our visit we also heard that they just completed filming The Book of Negros and I learned that in nearby Birchtown was the largest settlement of free blacks in North America.
During our visit we stayed at the lovely Cooper’s Inn Bed and Breakfast that was built in 1784. That evening after a boat ride and an amazing lobster dinner on the Brown Eyed Girl we stopped in at the Loyalist Inn and I had the pleasure of meeting Karen Harris Mattatall, Mayor of the Town of Shelburne.

Mayor Mattatall shared that the history of Shelburne is amazing, but added that along with visitors the town like in the past welcomes visitors to settle and start up businesses and place roots to help the town grow blending both the past and present to help make Shelburne a vital community.

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