Downtown Historic District
Today in the view looking north from Main Street up Batavia Avenue there stand just a few buildings from the Batavia of the early 20th century. Both the magnificent Revere House Hotel with its balconies that overlooked Batavia Avenue and the Aurora-Elgin trolley are gone. Just a few of the original buildings remain. George Burton’s Grocery Store at 141 S Batavia Avenue, the 1890 drug store at 117 S Batavia Avenue, which was recently Johnson's Drug Store, and the Oscar and John Anderson building at 4 N Batavia Avenue are still in use today.
Looking east down Wilson Street from Batavia Avenue from the Anderson Building, the only significant feature a resident can still see from 1900 would be the steeple from the Holy Cross Church, a landmark building now used by the Batavia Park District. Many of the historic buildings are gone, and those that remain are just east of the Wilson Street Bridge.
The historic district incorporates many buildings, sites and features that are part of the fabric of Batavia's past, present and hopefully, future. These buildings stand as a testament to the enduring legacy of a community's development, growth, and redevelopment. The story of this downtown district is a history of life along the Fox River and the Illinois Prairie. Many of the buildings that still stand reflect the values of a community built on industry, transportation and energy.
The most significant feature of many of the buildings found in the district is that they are built from limestone. The first limestone was quarried in Batavia by Colonel Joseph Lyon in 1834. In 1842 Zerez Reynolds opened the first commercial quarry, and by 1860 there were at least ten quarries in operation. The stone from many of these quarries was used locally and in the Chicago region. For example, most of the Challenge Company buildings are made from Batavia limestone.
The stone was also used to build the Geneva Bridge, the first buildings of Northern Illinois University, and to help rebuild the City of Chicago after the Great Chicago Fire. Another example of a building built from limestone in the historic district is the Newton Wagon Works. The Newton Wagon Company exemplifies the key transportation role Batavia played in the second half of the 19th century. By 1876 the Newton Works was producing over 4,000 wagons per year.
Today limestone continues to be a substantial feature in many buildings within the district. For example, the current Batavia city hall is the original Appleton Company site, which was started in 1872. The Appleton Company was the third major windmill maker in Batavia. It was started by John VanNortwick who rebuilt the buildings after fire destroyed the original in 1900. Today the Batavia Municipal Center is a key feature in the redevelopment of the riverfront and downtown. The Batavia Park District’s Clark Island was a 1930’s Works Progress Administration project that also used Batavia limestone for the pavilion and landscape.
The district also is the home to many of the community's churches, which are distinctive in their architectural features and styles, and also continue to provide many of Batavia's cultural and artistic events. The Congregational Church, built in 1855, is typical New England style, complete with tall steeple and built with native limestone. Architect Solon Spencer Beam designed the spectacular Romanesque Revival church, which today is the Batavia United Methodist Church. The church was a gift from Captain Newton. Another excellent example of native limestone used in one of Batavia's churches is the Calvary Episcopal Church, which was built as a gift from John Van Nortwick. The style is a design typical of many of the Episcopal churches built throughout the region.
Early Manufacturing Roots
The historic district encompasses many of the key ingredients that were part of Batavia's manufacturing and economic growth during the 19th and early part of the 20th century. Batavia was a center for transportation, energy and industry, and the buildings that remain remind us of that past. The historic district also complements the efforts to preserve a significant part of Batavia history and enhance its future.
The district contains symbols of our heritage, and is identified with persons who contributed to the development of the community. The district anchors the city’s past and contributes to its future through the Commission's efforts to preserve and restore the remaining symbols of Batavia's history.